House members share personal abortion stories to preserve procedural rights

WASHINGTON — Three members of Congress shared their personal and sometimes painful abortion stories Thursday, in an emotional hearing that comes amid an escalating battle over a Texas law that is the most restrictive in the world. country.

Two of the lawmakers said they were teenagers when they decided to end their pregnancies. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California, described her decision in the mid-1960s to have a “clandestine abortion” in Mexico at age 16, describing herself as “one of the luckiest” because of many other women and girls at the time died from unsafe abortions.

Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., said she decided to have an abortion after she was raped at age 17 by a man she met on a trip to church. Bush said that while the abortion clinic staff treated white girls with respect, they were talking “like garbage” to her and another young black girl.

“To all black women and girls who have had and are going to have abortions, we have nothing to be ashamed of,” Bush said. “We live in a society that has failed to legislate love and justice for us. So we deserve better. We demand better. We deserve better. That’s why I’m here to tell my story.

And Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said she decided to have an abortion knowing she couldn’t experience another high-risk pregnancy after having her first child, who weighed less than two pounds. at birth.

Gloria Steinem, a longtime feminist activist, also spoke at Thursday’s House Committee on Abortion Rights Oversight and Reform Committee hearing. She spoke about her own abortion and warned that if other states followed Texas’ lead, “we’ll be on the verge of returning to the days of the 1950s, when one in three women had an illegal abortion and dangerous”.

Abortion rights supporters fear the biggest threat to Roe v. Wade since the 1973 ruling guaranteeing a woman’s right to an abortion as the conservative Supreme Court is set to rule on some of the nation’s most restrictive laws. The court begins its new term on Monday.

The new Texas law, which went into effect Sept. 1 after the Supreme Court refused to immediately block its application, prohibits abortions as early as the sixth week of pregnancy and makes no exceptions for rape, sexual abuse or abuse. ‘incest. The law allows private citizens to sue anyone who helps a woman in Texas terminate her pregnancy.

During Thursday’s hearing, Republicans argued lawmakers shouldn’t spend their time debating Texas law, over which the panel has no jurisdiction.

Kentucky Rep. James Comer, the top Republican on the committee, said Democrats should hold hearings on Afghanistan and illegal immigration instead. Representative Virginia Foxx, R.C., accused Democrats of trying to “normalize the destruction of unborn babies,” calling abortion a “national sin.”

“Those of you who encourage abortion wouldn’t be with us if your mothers had abortions,” Foxx said. “We should mourn for the millions of children whose lives have been cut short because they were unwanted… How can a woman say her life is better because of abortion?”

One Republican lawmaker, Florida Rep. Kat Cammack, described her personal experience as the daughter of a mother who was advised by doctors to have an abortion, but who instead chose not to.

“She did something a lot of my colleagues here could have done,” Cammack said. She added: “Every woman’s story is different, and these decisions are not easy. But I am grateful every day that there were resources available for my mother… My mother survived. I survived and am a living, breathing witness to the power of life and the incredible choice my own mother made.

Thursday’s hearing comes a week after the House passed legislation that would create a legal right for medical professionals to perform abortions. HR 3755, the Women’s Health Protection Act, passed the House 218 to 211, but faces strong challenges in an evenly divided Senate.

The measure states that health care providers have the statutory right to provide, and patients have the right to receive, abortion services without a number of limitations that states and opponents of the procedure have sought to impose. . The measure would essentially codify Roe, the Supreme Court ruling guaranteeing the right to abortion before viability, usually around 22 to 24 weeks.

Lee, Jayapal, Bush and Steinem shared their own experiences, noting that it was difficult but they wanted to reduce the stigma faced by those seeking abortions.

“I was raised in El Paso, Texas, and attended a Catholic school,” Lee said. “So, of course, growing up, sex education was non-existent…And because of that, I honestly didn’t know how you got pregnant.”

After missing her period at 16, Lee said, she became quiet and withdrawn at home. His mother noticed him and asked him what was going on. Lee told her, and her mother then asked her if she wanted to have an abortion.

A family friend “told my mom to send me to her house in El Paso because she knew a good, knowledgeable, compassionate doctor, yes, who had a clinic down an alley in Mexico,” Lee said, 75, adding that she was “one of the luckiest” because “many girls and women of my generation did not survive”.

“In the 1960s, unsafe septic abortions were the number one killer — the number one killer — of African American women,” Lee said.

Jayapal told the panel that her first child was born at 26.5 weeks and was “so small it fits in the palm of my hand – the size of a medium sized squash”. Her child, Janak, is now 25 and non-binary.

After giving birth, Jayapal said, she suffered from severe postpartum depression and post-traumatic stress disorder which “was only diagnosed after contemplating suicide and realizing I needed to ask for help”.

She said that despite being on birth control, she became pregnant a second time and her doctors told her that any future pregnancy would also be at high risk for herself and the child.

“I really wanted to have more children, but I just couldn’t imagine going through that again,” said Jayapal, 56. .”

Bush said that after she was raped, she felt alone and blamed herself for what happened. Her parents were “the best parents in the world”, but she always feared disappointing them and feared they would kick her out of the house, she said. So she made an appointment at a local abortion clinic.

“There were a few other people in the clinic waiting room, including another young black girl,” Bush said. “I heard the clinic staff talking about her saying, ‘She ruined her life’ and ‘That’s what they do’ – ‘they’ are black girls like us.”

Bush said she, too, was treated disrespectfully by clinic staff during her counseling session.

In the locker room area, on the other hand, Bush overheard other girls – all white – talking about how the clinic staff had told them “how bright their future was, how loved their babies would be. ‘they [were] adopted, and that their options and opportunities were limitless.

“At that moment, listening to these girls, I felt anguish. I felt like I failed,” Bush said. But she also said that after returning home from the procedure, she felt resolute in her decision.

“Choosing to have an abortion was the hardest decision I’ve ever made,” Bush, 45, told the committee. “But at 18, I knew it was the right decision for me. It was liberating, knowing I had options. Even still, it took me a long time to feel like myself again until quite recently when I decided to give this speech.

When it came her turn to address the committee, Steinem, 87, said she accepted the invitation “because I bet I’m one of the few people old enough to remember how much c was serious when abortion was illegal”.

“How were those days? ” she says. “Well, you know, I was there, and I can tell you, as many older women can, they were filled with danger for women and guilt for women and men.”

Steinem said she had an abortion while living in England as a young woman. At the time, the doctor – who performed the abortion through a loophole – told her to promise him two things: “You must never tell anyone my name and you must do what you want to do with your life. .”

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