Congresswomen Share Their Abortion Stories In Hopes Colleagues Will Develop Empathy

Abortion

At the beginning of September, the Supreme Court decided to allow Texas to ban all abortions after six weeks (really four weeks, since the six weeks are counted from the date of the last menstrual period) by allowing anyone to sue anyone who has anything to do with someone in Texas getting an abortion. In December, the Court will hear arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, the Mississippi case that is primed to give the very conservative court the opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade.

On Thursday, in hopes of rallying some support for the Women's Health Protection Act, which would protect reproductive rights beyond Roe, three congresswomen got up and did something they should not have had to have done. They got up and told their colleagues and the world at large the stories of why they chose to have abortions and what being able to make that choice meant for their lives.


Rep. Barbara Lee of California described her experience having an illegal abortion with a back alley doctor in Mexico when she was 16 years old, before Roe.

Rep. Lee said that at 16 years old, she was an honor student, the first Black cheerleader at her school, and an accomplished pianist, but didn't know the first thing about how someone got pregnant. And then she ended up getting pregnant. She told her mother, who asked her if she wanted to get an abortion, being clear that it was her decision, and Lee decided that was what she wanted. One of her mother's friends knew of a "good, competent and compassionate" doctor who performed illegal abortions in Mexico.

"I was one of the lucky ones, madam chair. A lot of girls and women in my generation died from unsafe abortions," Rep Lee said, noting that, "In the 1960s, septic abortions were the primary killer of African-American women."

She talked about how Henry J. Hyde — he of the Hyde Amendment — had said that if it were up to him, he'd ban abortion for everyone, including the rich, but only had the power to use Medicaid to take that choice away from the poor. Of course, abortion will never be illegal for the rich.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal had a different experience. She had an abortion after Roe v. Wade and like the majority of those who get abortions, already had a child. She explained that her first child had been born premature, at 26 weeks, and was small enough to fit into the palm of her hand. That the child, Janak, had severe health problems including seizures, hydroencephaly and other issues. She explained that she had been through severe postpartum depression after that pregnancy, to the point that she had contemplated suicide. Despite taking birth control, she became pregnant again and doctors told her that this pregnancy, and any other pregnancy, would also be high risk for both her and her child.

And so she and her partner decided that the best decision for all involved was for her to have an abortion.

"I'm testifying before you because I want you to know that there are so many different situations that people face in making these choices," Jayapal said. "Whether the choice to have an abortion is easy or hard, whether there are traumatic situations or not, none of that should be the issue. It is simply nobody's business what choices we as pregnant people make about our own bodies."

Rep. Cori Bush told her story as well — a heart-wrenching one about how she was raped at 17 during a field trip with her church, became pregnant, and decided to have an abortion because she deserved a future, because she didn't want to give up on her dreams.

"How could I, at 18 years old and barely scraping by, support a child on my own?" Bush asked.

Each of them spoke of their own difficult situations, of the impact the loss of reproductive rights would have on people of color, on the poor, and each pointed out that none of them should have to be doing this.

I love these women, I love how brave they are, and it just hurts my heart that they have to be. It is not right that they feel they should have to carve out their own guts and lay them flat on a table for everyone in Congress, everyone in the country, everyone in the world to see, because they can't think of any other way to make their colleagues understand why others must be free to make their own choices about their own reproductive futures again. Because we live in a world of "wife guys" and "fathers of daughters" who for some reason can only understand how the things they want hurt people when those things affect people they know personally.

The whole point of Roe was, is, that abortion is a private decision, to be made between a pregnant person and their doctor. That should be it, end of story. At this point, we really should not have to explain to anyone the devastation it would cause if abortion were illegal. We don't have to hop in a damn time machine to pre-Roe days to know what happens when abortion is not legal and not safe. We can just look around at countries that do not have legal abortion and see just how horrifying they are, because we can literally just look at what happens in other countries where abortion is illegal now, or was up until recently. It's not pretty.

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse

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