Congresswomen share deeply personal stories about their abortions: 'We have nothing to be ashamed of'

·Senior Writer
·3 min read

In powerful testimony at a congressional hearing on reproductive rights Thursday, Reps. Cori Bush, D-Mo., Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Barbara Lee, D-Calif., shared deeply personal stories about their own abortions.

Bush had hers after being raped and becoming pregnant as a teenager.

“In the summer of 1994, I was raped. I became pregnant and I chose to have an abortion,” she said before the House Oversight Committee.

Bush recalled how she was on a church trip to Jackson, Miss., when an older boy she had met asked if he could come to the room she was staying in with a friend. By the time he showed up, they had gone to bed. She invited him in, thinking they would stay up and talk.

“But the next thing I knew, he was on top of me,” Bush recalled. “I was frozen in shock as his weight pressed down upon me. When he was done, he got up, he pulled up his pants and without a word he left. That was it.”

He never spoke to her again.

Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., testifies on Capitol Hill Thursday about her decision to have an abortion after being raped when she was a teenager. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., testifies on Capitol Hill Thursday about her decision to have an abortion after being raped as a teenager. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

“I was confused, I was embarrassed, I was ashamed,” Bush said, wiping away tears as she spoke.

After missing her period, she discovered she was pregnant. Knowing she couldn’t raise a child on her own at that time, she decided to have an abortion.

“Choosing to have an abortion was the hardest decision I had ever made,” Bush said. “But at 18 years old, I knew it was the right decision for me.”

At the abortion clinic, she said, she overheard the staff saying, “‘They ruined their life and that’s what they do’ — ‘they’ being Black girls like us.”

“To all the Black women and girls who have had abortions and will 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.”

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., testifies about her abortion during a hearing on Capitol Hill Thursday. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., testifies about her abortion during Thursday's hearing. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Lee, who was raised in El Paso, Texas, said she was 16 when she became pregnant. She decided to have an abortion and traveled to a “back-alley clinic” in Mexico to have it done.

“I was one of the lucky ones,” she said. “A lot of women in my generation didn’t make it. They died from unsafe abortions.”

Lee said the experience has driven her to fight for reproductive rights and access to safe abortions.

Jayapal said that a difficult pregnancy during her first marriage led to “severe” postpartum depression and that she contemplated suicide.

After a divorce, she met the man who is now her husband, with whom she became pregnant. “I knew I was not ready to have another child,” Jayapal said. “I simply could not imagine going through that again.”

She consulted with doctors who told her any pregnancy would likely be high risk to both her and the child.

“I decided to have an abortion,” Jayapal said. “For me, terminating my pregnancy was not an easy choice — the most difficult I’ve made in my life. But it was my choice, and that is what must be preserved for every pregnant person.”

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., testifies about her decision to have an abortion during a hearing on Capitol Hill Thursday. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., testifies at the hearing. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

The hearing comes on the heels of the passage of a Texas law that bans abortion after about six weeks — before many women even know they are pregnant — and makes no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. The bill took effect on Sept. 1 after the Supreme Court declined to enjoin the law.

In December, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case that challenges the constitutionality of Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban and is widely seen as a test case to overturn Roe v. Wade in a court made more conservative during Donald Trump’s presidency.

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