‘They are not alone’: Women share abortion stories with Congress amid ‘chaos’ of losing legal access to care

‘Lawmakers can decide whether abortion will look like my mother’s story or mine’ shared one person

Alex Woodward
New York
Wednesday 13 July 2022 21:05 BST
Republican congressman asks whether people can give birth to a 'turtle' or 'breakfast taco'

Providers and people who have had abortions detailed the far-reaching and personal impacts of abortion access and its loss in remarkable witness testimony in a pair of hearings in the US Senate and House of Representatives on 13 July.

After the US Supreme Court struck down Roe v Wade with a decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which dissolved the constitutional right to an abortion, abortion rights advocates are addressing a series of congressional hearings about legal abortion access this week.

As states across the US enact severe restrictions on care or have outlawed abortion entirely, Dr Kristyn Brandi, board chair with Physicians for Reproductive Health, told a Senate committee on 13 July that “abortion is essential care, abortion can be neecessary to save someone’s life, and it is a critical part of being an OGBYN.”

“Without autonomy, without decision making ability, without access to abortion care, many people have challenging situations that can be more painful or life-threatening,” she said.

Samie Detzer, a patient advocate with Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told the committee she received “compassionate, expert” care when she had an abortion in 2015 at 25 years old.

“My abortion was not painful and was certainly not traumatic. I was not lonely, depressed or ashamed. I can remember more about the relief than the tears,” she said. “That story is mine alone. No one interfered to stop me from making the best decision for myself. No one tried to take control of what was mine – my body, my freedom or my choice.”

She compared her experience to that of her mother’s in 1968, several years before Roe v Wade affirmed the constitutional right to abortion, and the “needlessly painful and physically and emotionally traumatic” obstacles to receiving care.

“But I am glad she is not here to see this terrible moment in our country’s history,” she added.

“I wish I did not need to share the details of my life and my mother’s life,” she said. “Lawmakers can decide if people in this country will be able to get the healthcare they deserve, they can decide if states will be allowed to create insurmountable barriers to abortion, or ban it completely. … Lawmakers can decide whether abortion will look like my mother’s story or mine.”

Georgia state Rep Renitta Shannon told the House Judiciary Committee she had an abortion 20 years ago and faced “significant unnecessary burdens” to care, obstacles that have “have only increased” in the decades that followed, “exacerbating an ongoing public health crisis defined by more maternal deaths increasing poverty and greater inequality overall.”

“The Dobbs decision will amount to structural violence for many communities, but most egregiously for Black, brown, Indigenous people of colour and people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ people and people living at the intersection of these identities who have already sustained centuries of oppression and lack of access to reproductive freedom,” she said.

Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of National Women’s Law Center, told the House committee that she “cannot overstate how much legal uncertainty and chaos that this Supreme Court has unleashed with this unsound opinion,” as states enact “vague and evolving and even sometimes conflicting state laws.”

“Employers and schools and city governments, they’re all buried under the weight of this explosion,” she said. “Clinics and health care professionals, they’re trying to make sense of this shifting landscape. Patients are confused and they are scared about their rights and they as individuals are forced to navigate an uncertain legal landscape. Many cannot travel including those who can’t afford it.”

At least nine states – Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin – have outlawed abortion entirely in nearly all instances.

As many as 26 states could outlaw abortion without protections affirmed under Roe. Republican-led state legislatures are poised to draft more-restrictive laws in the coming weeks and months.

Sarah Lopez, an abortion rights advocate with We Testify, a group that elevates the stories of people who had abortions, said she had an abortion roughly six years ago as she was finishing her time in college and scraping by while working at a restaurant, earning an hourly wage of $2.15 plus tips.

“When I found out I was pregnant I knew immediately that I wanted an abortion, but the stigma … made me feel what was happening to me was beyond my control and also my fault,” she said.

Texas requires a 24-hour waiting period before an appointment, which Ms Lopez said was pushed back to two weeks with holiday office closures. She also was required to undergo an ultrasound and state-mandated counseling.

“After my abortion I felt immediate relief. I also knew how lucky I was,” she said, pointing to support from the nurse who aided her care and support from her boyfriend and best friend.

“To some extent, I wish I didn’t have to talk about something so personal in this setting, but I hope that by being here today, people who currently need abortion know they are not alone,” she said. “Everyone should have access to the full range of reproductive healthcare, and that includes abortion.”

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