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House Oversight Committee debates Texas abortion law

Discussion over exceptions for rape and incest sparks intense debate

Rep. Cori Bush is seen at a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing in May. The Missouri Democrat testified Thursday about her experience getting an abortion after being raped as a teen.
Rep. Cori Bush is seen at a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing in May. The Missouri Democrat testified Thursday about her experience getting an abortion after being raped as a teen. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Clarified Oct. 1 | Rep. Cori Bush was raped at a church camp as a teenager. A month later, she realized she was pregnant and sought out an abortion, she said at a hearing Thursday.

“I knew it was a decision I needed to make for myself, so I did,” said the Missouri Democrat, who called it the hardest decision she ever made. “Today, I sit before you as that nurse, and as a pastor, activist, survivor, single mom, and congresswoman to testify that in the summer of 1994, I was raped, became pregnant, and chose to have an abortion.”

Bush was one of four congresswomen testifying about deeply personal connections during a tense House Oversight and Reform hearing Thursday about state restrictions on abortion in light of a new Texas law banning almost all such procedures.

Bush said she mostly kept the experience to herself, a sentiment shared by the two other Democrats who spoke about their abortions.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., first spoke publicly about her abortion in 2019. On Thursday, she was candid about its significance in her life.

“For me, terminating my pregnancy was not an easy choice, but it was my choice. And that is what must be preserved, for every pregnant person,” she said. “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.”

Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus Co-Chair Barbara Lee, D-Calif., also spoke about her experience having a “back-alley” abortion as a teenager in the mid-1960s.

“My personal experience shaped my beliefs to fight for people’s reproductive freedom,” she said.

Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla., approached the topic from a different perspective — as the child of someone whose doctors and family encouraged an abortion but decided not to follow through with it.

“I would not be here were it not for the very brave choice my mother made 33 years ago,” she said. “Because of her strength, she chose life. That wasn’t an easy decision for a single mom, a working-class mom.”

Focus on state laws

The House Oversight and Reform hearing came a day after the Senate Judiciary Committee held a similar hearing on the legal ramifications of a controversial Texas law.

On Sept. 1, the state implemented a law that bans almost all abortions with no exceptions for rape and incest. The law essentially guts the constitutional right to abortion established in Roe v. Wade, legal scholars say.

Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., said she felt compelled to hold this hearing, two years after a similar one on state abortion laws.

“If we do nothing, the consequences will not be limited to Texas,” she said, adding that other states are on the path to follow Texas’ example with copycat laws.

The Texas ban incentivizes lawsuits against individuals who aid in an abortion, which could include a variety of health care workers or anyone who provides transportation to an appointment.

Republicans criticized the hearing and questioned the committee’s jurisdiction over state laws. GOP lawmakers also defended states’ rights to pass their own restrictions.

“What the hell is going on here today? We don’t have oversight over state abortion rights. This is not the purpose of this committee,” said Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., called it a “solemn duty” to oppose the expansion of abortion.

“Instead of glorifying this awful act of desperation, we ought to grieve for the tens of millions of Americans who never have a chance to take their first breath,” she said. “We live in a society that mistakes choice for liberty and denies the dignity of unborn life.”

Democrats spoke in favor of two bills that would expand abortion rights.

The first is a House-passed bill by Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., that would expand abortion protections for providers and patients, limiting state-level restrictions. The Senate placed the bill on its calendar Wednesday.

Ghazaleh Moayedi, a Texas-based obstetrician-gynecologist and board member of the Physicians for Reproductive Health abortion rights group, called the bill “an important and critical step, but it is not enough.”

“We need legislation that will protect pregnant people and birthing people in all of their decisions so they can live their healthiest lives,” she said.

Chu also testified in support of her bill, which no House Republicans voted for last week.

The second bill, also from Lee, would require federal health care programs to cover abortion and require access to abortion in federal health facilities. It would also allow qualified health insurance plans to use premium tax credits and cost-sharing subsidies to cover abortion-related costs.

Lee also mentioned her sexual education bill, which she said was necessary to provide students with comprehensive knowledge to limit unintended pregnancies.

Rights for rape victims

A discussion over whether abortion laws should include exceptions for rape and incest became intense.

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., called out the minority witness Ingrid Skop, a Texas-based member of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists and associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, over her support of the Texas law.

He asked her if she would accept her daughter hypothetically having an abortion if she were to be raped.

“There’s adequate time in this law for a woman who’s been raped to discover if she’s pregnant and, if she wants to terminate the pregnancy, she has time to do it,” Skop said.

The two volleyed back and forth, with Krishnamoorthi concluding by calling the witness’ replies “unresponsive.”

Foxx called the questioning “disrespectful” and Mace called it “offensive and disgusting.”

On the other side, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, questioned Skop’s statement.

“Six weeks pregnant is two weeks late for one’s period. When you are raped, you don’t always know what happened to you. I speak about this as a survivor,” she said.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., asked every witness if they think the law should be changed nationally so that women and girls who are raped should be forced to bear their rapist’s child.

Maleeha Aziz, a community organizer with the Texas Equal Access Fund; Melissa Murray, a New York University School of Law professor; Loretta Ross, a co-founder of the reproductive justice movement and Smith College associate professor; activist Gloria Steinem; and Moayedi said no.

“I think the answer is obvious because my son had a complicated life getting to know his pedophile father,” said Ross, who talked earlier about her experience being raped at 14 by a married older cousin and not having the option to have an abortion.

Skop also said she did not want the law changed, but for different reasons.

“No, I don’t want to see the law changed. I want to see people’s hearts and minds changed about this unborn human,” she said.

This report was clarified to more closely reflect Rep. Kat Cammack‘s testimony.

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