13 Reasons Why's Abortion Journey Is Heartbreaking To Watch. This Is What It Was Like To Film

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
“It’s so shocking you don’t even know what to say, really,” Anne Winters tells Refinery29 in conversation on the phone. It’s a sentiment that could apply to nearly any plot point in 13 Reasons Why. Nearly everything is shocking in the world of Liberty High. Netflix’s teen show is so controversial that the streaming network decided to remove an especially traumatizing scene years after it premiered. Since the death by suicide of Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), the YA series has delved deeper into traumatic issues including sexual assault, drug abuse, and mass shootings.
But, Winters wasn’t talking about any of those polarizing topics. Instead, she is looking back on a particularly chilling scene in season 3’s “If You’re Breathing, You’re A Liar.” It's the moment an especially cruel abortion protester tosses a blood-covered plastic fetus at Winters’ character, Chloe Rice. It’s something out of a horror movie. Still, Chloe finds the strength to get her abortion.
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In a year of unforgettable and integral depictions of abortions on TV, from Sex Education to Shrill to Euphoria, the one in "Liar" will shatter your heart.
Two significant factors set Chloe’s abortion apart from its 2019 brethren. The first comes because 13 Reasons is frighteningly honest about how many hoops a teen must go through to get her procedure. First, Chloe ends up at a “crisis pregnancy center,” which is a facility masquerading as a full-service women’s clinic with the sole goal of talking women out of abortions. Chloe, a sexual assault survivor, only realizes she has been duped after a full medical examination. “You and your baby can go on to have full and wonderful lives,” a fake counselor (Sarah Nina Haydon) manipulatively tells her.
“It’s important to show the whole journey because it’s not as simple as, ‘Oh, I want to get an abortion.’ And you go and just make an appointment,” Winters says. Even when Chloe makes an appointment, she’s not promptly walked into an operating room for her procedure as Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) was in Euphoria or Maeve (Emma Mackey) was in Sex Education. After Chloe makes it to a legitimate women's health center, she is asked an invasive round of questions about her sex life and condom use. Then, she is told she has to come back days later for her abortion.
When she returns, protestors are standing outside of the clinic. One kindly woman (Erika Bra) offers to help Chloe and friend Zach Dempsey (Ross Butler) cross the street into the building, only to reveal she is a protester as well. “Choose wisely or you’ll regret this day until you die,” the woman announces before tossing that horrifying mock fetus as Chloe. You can see those words creeping into Chloe's psyche as she heads into the clinic.
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“The whole point, and what the writers tried to do, is to show that it’s not an easy decision,” Winters, who also plays formerly pregnant maid Ingrid on ABC’s Grand Hotel, explains. (Ingrid suffered a miscarriage after a hotel collapse.) When the protester’s nightmarish plastic fetus comes up, she doesn’t have words to describe the feeling of holding it as a real-life actress, let alone the emotions someone like Chloe would feel.
Chloe perseveres and gets the abortion. The scene portraying the procedure is what makes “Liar” so special. It is clinical, like the ones viewers saw on Shrill or Sex Education. Chloe is genuinely brokenhearted to go through with the abortion but feels it’s the best way to protect her future. It's a moment that tells viewers that abortion is not a sin, even when you’re emotional about the idea.
“Every girl has her own mindset and her own set of reasons that might take a minute to come up with that conclusion of doing it,” Winters, who spoke to an actual doctor about the procedure for research, says.
Unfortunately for Winters, she had to enter Chloe’s painful mindset more than once, because the abortion scene was filmed twice — albeit on a closed set. “The lighting wasn’t right, or they had some technical difficulty [with the initial footage]. So, a month later they reached out to me and said, ‘We have to have you come back and re-film the whole scene,’” Winters recalls. “Personally, the first time was my favorite just because it was her first time…But at the end of the day, I still was really there, and I felt it. I had them always turn that vacuum noise on for me because that did something to my head. That would make me lose it every time.”
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If you look closely at Winters’ arm during the sequence, it’s obvious just how much the intensity of Chloe’s emotions got to her. Case in point: the deep fingernail marks dotted across her skin. “That was a reaction because you can’t move [in the situation]. My instinct reaction was to grab on as hard as I can to my arm because there is no one [else] to hold on to,” the actress explains.
With Chloe’s abortion now behind her, Winters wishes her character the best as 13 Reasons Why heads into its fourth and final season. She has already been to the series’ Northern Californian set to film the upcoming chapter and can’t spill anything beyond that. “I have no idea how they’re going to end the season,” Winters promises. “But I will say, it’s the aftermath of so many things happening to these kids…They’ve been through the wringer.”
If only Chloe can avoid that wringer come season 4.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
If you are thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.
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