The Scandal actor wrote in her memoir, Thicker Than Water, that she accidentally got pregnant when she was in her 20s, after her role in the 2004 film She Hate Me. She said that she decided to have the abortion, and because of her rising star, gave the doctors a false name to protect her reputation. Now, Washington said she no longer wishes to hide her experience.
“I struggled a lot in the beginning with whether or not to include my abortion story,” Washington told People. “At first I wasn’t really sure how it fit into this story of my life. But I started to feel like it was really important for me to share this.”
“I’m telling my truth about my life, excavating some of my secrets,” she explained, “I don’t want my not telling it to make anybody think there is shame to be had.”
Throughout the memoir, Washington reflects on the period early on in her career, not long after the success of Save the Last Dance in 2001 and leading Spike Lee’s 2003 dramedy She Hate Me, that a romantic encounter led to an unplanned pregnancy.
“This story had so much to do with my understanding of myself and the world as my career unfolded,” she said. At the time, she admitted to her doctors and nurses that she felt like a hypocrite after having been a sexual health educator when she was a teenager.
“It’s just so important to me that abortion is not a bad word, and that my abortion is not another thing on the list of things that I’m ashamed of,” she continued to the outlet. “We’re at a moment where it’s really important to be telling the truth about our reproductive choices because some of those choices are being stripped away from us.”
The Emmy-winning actor now shares three children - a teenage stepdaughter, daughter Isabelle, nine, and Caleb, six - with Nnamdi Asomugha, her husband of 10 years.
Washington’s abortion admission wasn’t the only experience that she’s spoken candidly about recently.
In a 20/20 special, Washington admitted to Robin Roberts that she struggled with suicidal ideation while contending with “a toxic cycle of self-abuse that utilised the tools of starvation, binge eating, body obsession, and compulsive exercise”. Washington recalled the destructive period in her life, adding that the behaviour was “tiny little acts of trying to destroy myself”.
“I could feel how the abuse was a way to really hurt myself, as if I didn’t want to be here,” the Little Fires Everywhere actor explained. “It scared me that I could not want to be here because I was in so much pain.”
Although the Emmy winner considered herself “high-functioning” in some aspects, she said that “the food took [her] out” and led her to experience “body dysmorphia” and “body hatred” that spiraled out of control.
The actor clarified that she no longer experiences “suicidal ideation” and has gotten the necessary help. “The bottom has gotten a lot higher where just a little discomfort with it is enough for me to know this is a way to check myself,” she explained. “But it definitely looks a lot healthier. It’s a lot easier. It’s a lot saner than it used to be.”
If you are experiencing feelings of distress, or are struggling to cope, you can speak to the Samaritans, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email email@example.com, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.
If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
If you are in another country, you can go to www.befrienders.org to find a helpline near you.
For anyone struggling with the issues raised in this article, eating disorder charity Beat’s helpline is available 365 days a year on 0808 801 0677. NCFED offers information, resources and counselling for those suffering from eating disorders, as well as their support networks. Visit eating-disorders.org.uk or call 0845 838 2040