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Trigger warning: This post contains description of sexual assault.
At this Thursday’s Oversight Committee hearing, Rep. Cori Bush shared a story she’d kept fairly private until now: That as a teenager, she was raped, got pregnant, and chose to have an abortion.
Bush was one of several congresswomen who testified about their personal abortion stories during the hearing, which was convened to discuss the current threats to abortion access, one month after Senate Bill 8 went into effect in Texas, banning nearly all abortions after about six weeks. The hearing also came ahead of a Supreme Court case that begins this December, which will decide whether Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban is constitutional.
“Nearly 1 in 4 women in the United States will have an abortion in their lifetime,” Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney said at the start of the hearing. “But with a hostile Supreme Court, extremist state governments are no longer chipping away at our constitutional rights—they are bulldozing right through them.” Maloney then urged the Senate to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, which establishes a federally protected right to abortion for everyone in the U.S.
“Whether the choice to have an abortion is easy or hard, whether there are traumatic situations or not, none of that should be the issue,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal said during her testimony. “It is simply nobody’s business what choices we as pregnant people make about our own bodies.”
During Rep. Bush’s testimony, she recounted her story of being raped while on a church trip, the fear of realizing she was pregnant and would not have the father’s support, and her experience obtaining an abortion, including the racism she encountered during the procedure. “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. It was freeing knowing I had options.”
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St. Louis and I thank you, Chairwoman Maloney for convening this urgent hearing. It is an honor to join Congresswomen Lee, Jayapal, and Chu as part of today’s panel. And I also want to thank my sister Congresswoman Pressley for her leadership in this hearing and to my sisters in service for being here with me today and my brother.
In the summer of 1994, I was a young girl all of 17 years old and had just graduated high school. Like so many Black girls during that time, I was obsessed with fashion and gold jewelry and how I physically showed up in the world. But I was also very lost. For all of my life, I had been a straight-A student with dreams of attending college and becoming a nurse. But high school early on was difficult for me. I was discriminated against, bullied, and as time passed, my grades slipped and, along with it, the dream of attaining a full scholarship to a historically Black college. That summer, I was just happy that I passed my classes, and I finished high school.
Shortly after graduating, I went on a church trip to Jackson, Mississippi. I had many friends on that trip, and while there I met a boy, a friend of a friend. He was a little older than I was, about maybe 20 years old. That first day we met, we flirted, we talked on the phone.
While on the phone, he asked me, could he come over to my room? I was bunking with a friend and hanging out and said he could stop by. But he didn’t show up for a few hours, and by the time he did, it was so late that my friend and I had gone to bed. I answered the door and quietly told him he could come in, imagining that we would talk and laugh, like we had done over the phone. 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?” The next morning, I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to say something to him, but he refused to talk to me. By the time that trip ended, we still hadn’t spoken at all.
About a month after the trip, I turned 18. A few weeks later, I realized I had missed my period. I reached out to a friend and asked the guy from the church trip to contact me. I waited for him to reach out, but he never did. I never heard from him. I was 18, I was broke, and I felt so alone. I blamed myself for what had happened to me.
But I knew I had options. I had known other girls who had gone to a local clinic to get birth control and some who had gotten abortions. So I looked through the yellow pages and scheduled an appointment. During my first visit, I found out that I was nine weeks pregnant. And then there, the panic set in.
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. I was stressed out knowing that the father wouldn’t be involved, and I feared my parents would kick me out of the home, the best parents in the world, but I feared they would kick me out. My dad was a proud father and always bragging about his little girl and how he knew I would go straight to college and become Attorney General. That was his goal for me. So with no scholarship intact and college out of the foreseeable future, I couldn’t bear the thought of disappointing my dad again. I knew it was a decision I needed to make for myself, so I did.
My abortion happened on a Saturday. There were a few other people in the waiting room, including one other young Black girl. I overheard the clinic staff talking about her, saying she had ruined her life and that’s what “they” do—they being Black girls like us. Before the procedure, I remember going in for counseling and being told that if I moved forward with this pregnancy, my baby would be “jacked up” because the fetus was already malnourished and underweight. Being told that if I had this baby, I would wind up on food stamps and welfare.
I was being talked to like trash, and it worsened my shame. Afterwards, while in the changing area, I heard some other girls, all white, talking about how they were told how bright their futures were, how loved their babies would be if they adopted, and that their options and their opportunities were limitless. In that moment, listening to those girls, I felt anguish. I felt like I had failed.
When I went home, my body ached, and I had this heavy bleeding. I felt so sick. I felt dizzy, nauseous. I felt like something was missing. I felt alone, but I also felt so resolved in my decision.
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. It was freeing knowing I had options. Even still, it took long for me to feel like me again, until most recently, when I decided to give this speech.
So to all the Black women and girls who have had abortions and 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. That’s why I’m here to tell my story.
So today I sit before you as that nurse, as that pastor, as that activist, that survivor, that single mom, that congresswoman to testify that in the summer of 1994, I was raped, became pregnant, and I chose to have an abortion.
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