Penny Marshall Explained How Her Abortion After Marriage With Rob Reiner Ended Would Shape Her Social Views

The director became a pro-choice advocate later in life.

Penny Marshall appears at a Women in Film awards event.
Kevin Winter / ImageDirect

The director became a pro-choice advocate later in life.

Penny Marshall was pregnant twice in her life, both times unplanned. As the directed explained, the differing decisions she made each time would go on to shape her views on abortion.

The sudden passing of the director has put a spotlight on her family, including daughter Tracy, and how her experiences would lead Marshall to become a vocal pro-choice advocate. As the Chicago Tribune noted in a 2012 review of her memoir, Marshall’s views were shaped largely by her own life experiences.

Marshall explained that she had two unplanned pregnancies. The first came while she was with boyfriend Michael Henry, her college sweetheart who she would briefly marry. Marshall went through with the pregnancy, which resulted in the birth of her daughter, Tracy.

Another unplanned pregnancy following her second marriage and divorce from Hollywood director Rob Reiner also shaped Marshall’s views on abortion. This time, Marshall chose to end the pregnancy.

In her memoir, Penny Marshall defended the decision.

“It was my life that I was dealing with and so I have a right to an opinion,” she said (via Entertainment Tonight).

“I already had a kid — it wasn’t like it was my first kid.”

There was quite a bit of backlash to the announcement from pro-life groups, but Marshall said she made the right choice.

“I didn’t wish I hadn’t [had the abortion],” said Marshall.

“[Up until then] I was one of the few people who said, ‘No I’d never did that’ — every friend I had had done that. But they should have the right.”

While Penny Marshall’s decision to have an abortion got plenty of attention at the time, her relationship with daughter Tracy was also noteworthy. Born in 1964, Tracy decided to follow her mother into show business and appeared in a series of movies in the late 1980s through mid-1990s.

It was a family affair. As Tracy Marshall said in an interview with the Hollywood Sentinel, her grandmother (Penny’s mother) was the dance teacher for the Junior Rockettes before leaving to start her own dance school.

“She and my mother and my aunt and all the other neighborhood mothers were recruited to dancing school and costumes,” Tracy explained.

“And my grandmother (on mothers’ side) had a photographic memory, so she would go to Broadway plays and she would memorize music, and she would come back and play it on the piano, and she would teach everyone to dance.”

The early exposure would help both Tracy and mom Penny Marshall decided to lead a career in show business.