Rep. Cori Bush on Thursday shared her personal experience of how she was raped as a teenager, became pregnant and chose to get an abortion.
It was one of the first times that Bush, a Missouri Democrat, has spoken publicly about it and her decision to have an abortion.
Bush’s comments came during a House Oversight Committee hearing Thursday called by the Democratic chair Carolyn Maloney to “examine the threat to abortion rights and access” posed by the US Supreme Court and “extreme anti-choice state governments,” in the wake of the Texas 6-week abortion bill.
During the House hearing, Bush recounted how shortly after graduating high school, she attended a church trip to Jackson, Mississippi, in the summer of 1994. She was 17 at the time.
While on the trip, she met a 20-year-old man, a “friend of a friend.” The two flirted and he asked to visit her room. She invited him in, believing that they would talk and laugh.
“But the next thing I knew, he was on top of me, messing with my clothes, and not saying anything at all. ‘What is happening?’ I thought. I didn’t know what to do. I was frozen in shock, just laying there 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. I was confused, I was embarrassed, I was ashamed. I asked myself, was it something that I had done?” Bush recalled.
A few months after the trip and then a year older, Bush tried to contact the man after noticing she missed her period, but she never heard from him.
“I was 18. I was broke, and I felt so alone. I blamed myself for what had happened to me,” Bush said.
Bush later found out she was nine weeks pregnant and that’s when “panic set in,” she said.
“How could I make this pregnancy work? How could I, at 18 years old and barely scraping by, support a child on my own? And I would have been on my own,” she said, also explaining how she feared being kicked out by her parents or disappointing them.
Bush, who is Black, also recalled how she experienced discrimination as she sought health care during her pregnancy.
In a counseling session before she had the abortion procedure, Bush said she was told her baby would be “‘jacked up'” because the fetus was already malnourished and underweight, and that she would end up on food stamps and welfare if she had the baby.
“I was being talked to like trash and it worsened my shame,” she said.
Bush said “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,” adding that it “was freeing knowing I had options.”
“To all the Black women and girls who have had abortions or will have abortions, 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,” the Missouri congresswoman said. “So that’s why I’m here to tell my story.”
Democratic Reps. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state and Barbara Lee of California, both of whom previously publicly shared that they had abortions decades ago, also spoke at Thursday’s hearing about their experiences getting an abortion.
“Two years ago, I decided to tell my story as a member of Congress because I was so deeply concerned about the abortion ban legislation that was coming out from states across the country. Today, I am 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 Thursday.
She said that “terminating my pregnancy was not an easy choice, but it was my choice,” arguing “that is what must be preserved, for every pregnant person.”
Lee told her harrowing story of having a “back alley abortion” in Mexico when she was a teenager — before the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion in the US.
She said Thursday she shared her story hoping it would help “destigmatize accessing abortion care” and out of “real risk of the clocks being turned back to those days before Roe v Wade.”
Republican Rep. Kat Cammack of Florida spoke about how her mother, when she was pregnant with her, was advised by doctors to have an abortion.
“I am a living, breathing witness of the power of life and the incredible choice that my mother made,” Cammack said.
In her opening remarks, Maloney pushed for Congress to pass Lee’s “EACH Act” that would mandate federal health care programs to provide abortion services coverage, and for the Senate to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act. The Democratic-sponsored bill, which aims to establish a federally protected right to abortion care, was passed by the House on Friday.
Republicans on the panel also slammed their Democratic colleagues for not using “valuable time” to hold oversight hearings on the migrant crisis on the US southern border or the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
This story has been updated with additional information from the hearing.
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