I starred in the first TV on-screen abortion. Why is my country going back to the dark ages? | Television

‘God’ll get you for that, Walter.”

Fifty years ago, Norman Lear’s hit series Maude premiered on CBS, and women all over America started repeating Bea Arthur’s catchphrase.

That first season, a two-part episode called Maude’s Dilemma aired and was hailed by the Chicago Tribune as a watershed moment that “brought the battle over choice into the primetime arena”. Maude, at the age of 47, was pregnant. Her daughter Carol lovingly told her: “When you were growing up, it was illegal, it was dangerous and it was sinister. Abortion was a dirty word; it’s not any more. It’s legal now – we’re free. We finally have the right to decide what we can do with our own bodies.”

I played Maude’s daughter and I said those words.

Seven years earlier, while I was living in New York, a friend of mine got pregnant. Alone, new to New York, no steady income, she turned to me for support. I was dancing in a club in New Jersey. My boss had confided in me that he’d arranged for an abortion for his girlfriend and if I ever needed help …

Well, I didn’t, but my friend did. She travelled out to the club with me, gave my boss $400 and went off to a hotel room with a total stranger. Who knew if he was even a doctor? When he brought her back, he told us she couldn’t have any aspirin, no alcohol, and that she would miscarry 24 hours later.

An hour later, she began haemorrhaging. Screaming in pain. My boss drove us home, with blood soaking through her clothes. She got to my apartment and miscarried into my toilet.

I have forgotten so many images from my life, but the memory of what she went through is still as vivid as when it happened 57 years ago. That experience coloured the rest of my life. When I moved to Los Angeles to do Maude, I spent my first hiatus volunteering at a women’s health care clinic: offering contraceptive counselling, pregnancy counselling, and first trimester menstrual extractions to women ranging from pre-teen to middle age. When Norman Lear handed us the scripts, I cheered. It wasn’t about pro-choice or pro-life. It was about a woman’s right to control her own destiny; to control her own body; to make her own choices. Roe v Wade had passed and no one could invade our privacy. No one could tell us what to do. No one could make a decision for us.

That’s the way we’ve lived our lives for 50 years. Millennials and gen Zs have never had the government putting their lives in jeopardy, never been told they can’t use birth control, never run the risk of going to jail for a decision only they should be able to make, never experienced being second-class citizens under the control of old white men.

Well, now they know what life before Roe was like. When Maude’s Dilemma was filmed, women had to consult men for their medical treatments; they didn’t have control of their own lives. We’re going back to that today. We’re going back to our own dark ages.

And it’s not going to stop with abortion rights. Our history is being rewritten, our school libraries are being censored, our freedom to marry is threatened. If we’re not white, heterosexual men, we’re in danger. Real danger.

If Maude were with us today, she’d march up the steps to the supreme court building, call out six of the judges and say …

“God’ll get you for that.”

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