Members of Congress share their own abortion stories at the hearing

On Thursday, three Democratic members of Congress offered deeply personal testimony about their own abortions as a congressional committee considered how to respond to conservative states that pass laws limiting abortion access.

Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri said she was raped during a youth trip to church. Representative Barbara Lee of California said she had an abortion “in an alley” in Mexico after a teenage pregnancy. And Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington said she opted for an abortion after learning her pregnancy would be at high risk for her and the baby.

“Choosing to have an abortion was the hardest decision I’ve ever made, but at 18 I knew it was the right decision for me,” Bush told the House Committee on Oversight Reform.

The hearing comes weeks after a Texas law went into effect banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy with no exceptions for rape or incest. Other conservative states are considering similar measures.

Meanwhile, a federal appeals court is weighing the fate of a Missouri law that bans abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy, also without rape or incest exceptions. And, the U.S. Supreme Court in December will hear arguments about a Mississippi law that would ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

The hearing also considered what the federal government can do to ensure access to abortion. Options include ending the Hyde Amendment, which limits government funding for most abortions, and passing a law guaranteeing women’s right to abortion. The House passed the measure last week, but the Republican opposition would almost certainly condemn it in the Senate.

Committee chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney, a Democrat from New York, said the majority of Americans support abortion rights.

“But with a hostile Supreme Court, extremist state governments no longer undermine constitutional rights — they bulldoze them,” Maloney said.

Republican Rep. James Comen of Kentucky said the oversight committee should focus on issues with President Joe Biden’s administration, not a state matter over which he “has absolutely no jurisdiction.” Another Republican, Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, said abortion “just makes the heartache worse.”

“Whether a pregnancy is planned or unplanned, or even the result of horrific circumstances, ending that child’s life with an abortion to empower or protect the, quote, freedom, end quote, of the mother is not an answer,” Foxx said.

Bush, a 45-year-old legislator from St. Louis, testified that she had just graduated from high school in the summer of 1994 and had taken a trip for church youth in the Mississippi. She said she befriended a man in his mid-twenties. She said they flirted and he asked to go to the room she shared with another girl. Her roommate was already asleep when the man showed up.

“I opened the door and quietly told him he could come in, imagining that we would talk and laugh like we had on the phone,” Bush said. “But the next thing I knew he was on top of me, playing with my clothes and not saying anything at all.”

When it was over, Bush said, she was “confused.”

“I was embarrassed, I was ashamed,” she said. “I wondered, ‘Was this something I had done? “”

About a month later, shortly after turning 18, Bush learned she was pregnant.

“To all black women and girls who have had or are about to have abortions – know this: we have nothing to be ashamed of,” Bush said.

Jayapal said her first child, Janak, now 25, was born prematurely and weighed less than 2 pounds, resulting in medical conditions that frequently required her hospitalization. Jayapal said other stresses combined with the sick baby led to postpartum depression so severe that she contemplated suicide.

She said that when she became pregnant again, she saw doctors “who told me that any future pregnancy would probably also be high risk for me and the child, similar to what I had experienced with Janak”.

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

Terminating the pregnancy was “the hardest choice I’ve made in my life, but it was my choice,” Jayapal said.

Lee became pregnant at age 16 in the mid-1960s. Abortion in California was illegal at the time, so a family friend helped send her to an “alleyway clinic in Mexico,” said she declared.

She had no ill effects from the procedure, but she said many other women weren’t so lucky at that time.

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

A Republican lawmaker had her own personal story about an abortion that didn’t happen.

Rep. Kat Cammack of Florida said her mother suffered a stroke while pregnant with Cammack’s older sister. Years later, while pregnant with Cammack, Cammack’s mother was told by doctors to have an abortion.

“But because of her strength,” Cammack said, “she chose life.”


Salter reported from O’Fallon, Missouri.

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