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Cecily Strong's 'clown abortion' SNL sketch prompts women to share their stories

People who have had abortions offered support, solidarity and thanks for Cecily Strong's controversial "clown abortion" sketch.

Saturday Night Live cast member Cecily Strong's latest performance has everyone talking about abortion in a totally new way.

Playing "Goober the Clown, who had an abortion when she was 23," Strong appeared on SNL's "Weekend Update" in full clown costume to, as co-host Colin Jost said, "cheer us up" following U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments in two cases challenging Texas' latest abortion restriction — a 6-week abortion ban that outlaws the procedure before most people even know they're pregnant.

"I had an abortion the day before my 23rd birthday," Strong, as Goober, proudly proclaimed.

"It seems like you do want to talk about your abortion?" Jost responded.

"I actually really don't, but people keep bringing it up so I got to keep talking about freakin' abortion," said Strong, sporting a red nose and spinning bow tie. "But it's a rough subject so we're going to do fun clown stuff to make it more palatable. Whee!"

Strong noted that abortion is common (currently about one in four women has an abortion in her lifetime, according to the health research organization Guttmacher Institute). In her clown role, she shared that one of her favorite jokes is the one her provider made prior to her procedure, quipping that she must have gotten pregnant on the way to the clinic because she wasn't far along in the pregnancy.

"It's such a good joke, not like a funny 'ha ha' joke," she said, "but like a funny 'hey you're not an awful person and your life isn't over now' joke. The best kind!"

The sketch resonated with people who've had abortions, many of whom shared their own experiences on social media.

"I loved how Strong reiterated how common abortion is," Priscilla Blossom, 37, a writer living in Denver, tells TODAY Parents. "I have many friends who have had abortions, and I'm certain there are probably more who just haven't spoken out because there's so much stigma around it. When it was time for my first abortion, I was very nervous to share my experience with others due to the stigma, too." Blossom says that now she's grown more comfortable discussing her two abortions openly, and makes sure people know she's someone safe to talk to for people who've had abortions.

"Maybe there's someone out there who watched that skit and hasn't told a soul about their own abortion, thinking it was something shameful that needs to be hidden," Blossom adds. "But I hope they saw that and recognized that so many of us have abortions."

Jenn Chalifoux, 29, tweeted that she was "relieved and emotional" after watching Strong's skit. "For nearly a decade after my abortion, I was isolated by stigma and shame," Chalifoux tells TODAY. "I got my abortion after my 19th birthday. I had never heard another person's abortion story. I had never seen anyone admit to having had one. The loneliness was suffocating."

She says that now she can talk about her abortion only because she has spent time listening to other people's experiences — something she says made her realize that she wasn't alone.

"Now I speak about my experience with the hope that other abortion patients will hear what I went through and feel seen and understood," she adds. "I felt that way when I heard Cecily Strong's abortion story on Saturday Night Live."

Lizz Winstead, co-creator of "The Daily Show" and founder of Abortion Access Front, an organization that uses humor and pop culture to advocate for abortion rights, tells TODAY that Strong's sketch "drove home the fact that we need to break stigma" and that "anyone, anywhere, should be able to talk about their abortion" in a way that's most comfortable for them. "It was also clear by reading the Twitter comments that people felt very entitled to criticize how she did it."

Several people took issue with the way Strong discussed abortion on national television. Lila Rose, founder and president of the organization Live Action, which works to sway public opinion in favor of restricting abortion, called the abortion that made it possible for "Goober" to play a clown on SNL "not worth it."

Tim Young, a political satirist, told Fox News, "It isn't remotely funny. It's literally just reading left wing talking points on-air with zero humor attached." Jason Whitlock, a sports journalist and culture critic, tweeted, "This is not funny. This is insane."

Still, many viewers appreciated the sketch's candor, unapologetic demeanor and slapstick humor.

Renee Bracey Sherman, founder and executive director of We Testify, an organization dedicated to the support and representation of people who've had abortions, tells TODAY Parents that Strong's "Goober" joins the chorus of women sharing their abortion stories.

"I look to see more people being open about their abortion stories in mediums that feel right for them," Bracey Sherman said.

Studies have shown that storytelling, and not sharing statistics or hard facts, can do more to help move political discussions forward so that those with opposing viewpoints can find common ground. People naturally think in story form, and personal narratives can elicit greater empathy than data.

"We're seeing an increasing number of comedic abortion stories on television, and I think that that is very important and resonates in a different way for people who maybe didn't have a really hard time making their decision or don't have a sad or serious abortion story," Gretchen Sisson, Ph.D., a research sociologist for Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at the University of California, San Francisco, tells TODAY.

One 2020 study of 667 women published in the journal "Social Science & Medicine" reports that relief, not regret, was the most common emotion associated with abortion, even five years later.

Strong's segment certainly resonated with Chalifoux. "Cecily Strong has a lot more to lose than I do, and she went on live television and spoke up," she says. "I'm grateful for her bravery, and I'm so proud of her."