Since the recently enacted Texas law, S.B. 8, took effect, a law that bans abortion in the state after six weeks, the reality of the war on reproductive rights has felt heavy for many people across the country.
The new ruling effectively overturned Roe v. Wade and changed the future of pregnant people in the state of Texas virtually overnight. In the month since the law has been enacted, Democrats have attempted to overrule it with federal law enshrining the right to abortion across the country, and activists have waited with bated breath to see if the Supreme Court would act to protect the right. (Spoiler alert: they have not.)
And now Congressional representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), Cori Bush, Barbara Lee, and Pramila Jayapal have shared their own experiences with abortion in a powerful testimony, destroying dangerous myths about sexual abuse and abortion and lending their own stories to provide support for a basic medical procedure people need access to in order to thrive.
On September 30th, the House Oversight Committee hosted a hearing on abortion rights in the wake of the abortion ban in Texas. During the hearing, AOC let her frustrations be known, blaming Republicans for perpetuating harmful myths about sexual abuse and abortions.
At the hearing, Republicans called an expert to the podium to speak on the Texas bill. Ingrid Skip from the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists pushed the myth that the ban doesn’t force survivors of rape into carrying a fetus to term. Instead, according to Skop, people should know before the six-week mark that they were pregnant and thus have enough time to schedule an abortion within that timeframe if that’s what they wanted.
When it was AOC’s turn to speak, she ripped into that dangerous myth and destroyed it within seconds of her testimony. “Once again, we’re in a room of legislators who are attempting to legislate reproductive systems that they know nothing about,” AOC said. She strongly addressed that the “conversation shouldn’t even be held in a legislative body” before pointing out that the six-week mark means someone’s period is only two weeks late.
“When you are raped, you don’t always know what happened to you,” she said. “And I speak about this as a survivor. You are in so much shock.” AOC shared that when someone is raped, the shock, trauma, and stress can be the reason or a late period alone. But there are so many other reasons why someone’s period could be two weeks late.
“You look at me funny; I’m two weeks late for my period,” AOC said. “And you’re supposed to expect me to know that I’m pregnant? Or the stress of a sexual assault — that makes you two weeks late for your period, whether you’re pregnant or not.”
During the same hearing, Missouri Democratic Rep. Cori Bush revealed a very personal story that was devastating and powerfully impactful. Opening up for the first time, Bush described the aftermath of being raped on a church trip when she was 17. Bush explained that she felt “broken” upon discovering she was pregnant due to the assault. Bush found a clinic where she learned that she was nine weeks pregnant.
“Choosing to have an abortion was the hardest decision I had ever made, but at 18 years old, I knew it was the right decision for me,” Bush shared.
During her testimony, Bush spoke to Black girls and women, assuring them they were worthy of protection.
“We have nothing to be ashamed of; we live in a society that has failed to legislate love and justice for us, so we deserve better, we demand better, we are worthy of better,” she said. “I have to be clear about speaking up for them. Because if not, who else speaks up for us? And when people don’t speak up for us, we continue to die at alarming rates.”
The committee also heard from California Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee, who spoke about her decision to get an abortion in the 1960s when she was a 16-year-old student. Her mom helped her find a doctor – outside the country – since abortion wasn’t available in California at the time.
“I’m sharing my story, even though I truly believe it is personal and really nobody’s business and certainly not the business of politicians,” Lee said. “But I’m compelled to speak out because of the real risks of the clock being turned back to those days before Roe v. Wade, to the days when I was a teenager and had a back-alley abortion in Mexico.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington spoke up at the hearing and shared her decision to have an abortion when she discovered she was pregnant while parenting a medically fragile child. Jayapal said her first child, Janak, was born prematurely, which resulted in complex medical conditions that required a lot of support and hospitalizations. From that, she struggled with postpartum depression, which included suicidal ideation.
Then she found out she was pregnant again. So she consulted with doctors “who told me that any future pregnancy would likely also be high risk to me and the child, similar to what I had gone through with Janak.”
Not news any parent wants to hear. “I very much wanted to have more children,” she said, “but I simply could not imagine going through that again.” She said that ending her pregnancy was “the most difficult choice I’ve made in my life, but it was my choice.”
Slapping down the myth that Texas’ law hinges one is key to ensuring abortion rights are available across the country. The Congresswomen who spoke up at the hearing sharing their own stories and experience with abortion care highlights that it doesn’t matter why someone is seeking an abortion – whether it was from an assault or any other reason at all – access is vital. And the women standing up for the rights of everyone to have safe access to abortion is powerful and meaningful.