That Thing She Had One Time: Exploring Abortion Stigma On Screen

“You’re going to have to come back in five days. You’re too early to schedule an abortion.”

This is the moment when Jordan collapses into tears.

Jordan is in 10,000 miles away from home in New York—and the tangled mess of anxiety, fear and disarray has built up in her isolated mind and finally overflowed as she gives way, with half-held back tears, to the strange and uncomfortably impersonal hospital staff.  “Look, it’s just because your HCG levels aren’t high enough,” a nurse says into the face of a young, lost girl with eyes wide and eyebrows furrowed in panicked confusion. “You need stop crying.”

Jordan is exasperated. Of the six professionals she met with in New York, she recalls just one to whom she felt something other than coldness towards, and who seemed to feel something other than aversion to her situation. “The second time I came back there was one,” she says, “the sonogram doctor that time, she was really nice. She was young, she was the only one who talked to me and made me feel okay.”

But Jordan Fassina has been here before. It’s Sadie who hasn’t—the main character of her upcoming film That Thing I Had One Time, which will be released this year by Red Sky Studios.

Jordan Fassina’s autobiographical film “That Thing I Had One Time” explores the stigmas facing women who seek abortion care.

“This is going to be a lot of closure for me,” Fassina told Ms. “It’s going to be a really beautiful thing to put my experience out there and know that there’s other women that are going to relate. I feel that there’s going to be a sense of unity for me, if that makes sense—or a sense of being understood.”

Executive producer Bobby McGruther, who excused himself at times from the set due to the film’s unsettlingly personal nature, describes parts of That Thing I Had One Time as “very intense.” But director Orlando Joubert feels that the potential impact of the film lies in that jarringly intimate voice—in its power to highlight a human experience that is so widely shared, yet seems rarely considered.

“I think this film could shed some light to the other side of the political spectrum—open their eyes as to why many are fighting for a choice and a difficult one at that,” he told Ms., “Though the character of Sadie is sure of her choice, you can see the anguish in her eyes from making it.”

The potential to reap empathy is the entire point of Fassina’s film, and it’s the mission that empowers her to tell her own difficult story. “My main goal is to validate women in their experience and have them feel less alone,” she said in an interview with FilmInk. “I know that there were plenty of times where I felt as though no other person could empathize or understand, so I’m making this for the women who feel no one gets it, to let them know that I do. Abortion is ridiculously common and normal, yet we’re so hesitant to talk about it—and for some, quick to condemn it—that it leaves women feeling isolated.”

The 22-year-old Australian actor and screenwriter’s film on abortion comes at a time when women nationwide are also seeking that sisterhood as they face unprecedented assaults on their reproductive rights. Four states—Mississippi, Louisiana, North Dakota and South Dakota—currently have “trigger laws” on the books which would outright ban abortion if the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade were overturned. Dozens of lawmakers in other states are seeking to do the same, and the recent shift in power of the Court’s bench has groups like Planned Parenthood and NARAL preparing for a post-Roe landscape. Beyond trigger laws, politicians have done all they could in the last five years to restrict and limit abortion access—and, too often, have succeeded.

“I’m very privileged in the sense that my family is financially stable and is able to provide an abortion if I needed,” Fassina noted to Ms. “But it’s been proven through so much research that limiting access to abortions is incredibly dangerous for women.”

Denying abortion care to women makes them more likely to experience poverty, physical health impairments and even intimate partner violence. And a 2017 research report by the Center for Reproductive Rights found that the states hellbent on restricting abortion also offer fewer supportive policies for mothers in place than their neighbors, putting women’s lives in danger at every turn. 

“Abortion restrictions can delay or make access to care more difficult, contributing to poor emotional and financial well-being as women try to navigate abortion care hurdles,” researchers noted. “Other restrictions block access to abortion all together, interfering with women’s abilities to make their own reproductive decisions and preventing the achievement of life plans and goals.

Women from Fassina’s hometown in Australia will also no doubt empathize with and understand her story. The last Tasmanian abortion clinic closed early last year due to decreased demand, causing women to seek expensive and more isolated care in other states. Despite a new facility opening in November, concerns have continued regarding the clinic’s affordability and access for regional women in particular.

“It honestly breaks my heart,” Fassina told Ms. “It’s one thing knowing that you have to have an abortion—but knowing that you have to go through leaps and bounds just to get it is a whole other ball game.”


Madeleine Rojahn is a freelance journalist based in Tasmania. Her work has appeared in the UK magazine Transform and local publications Togatus and The Mercury.