Bill Bradley, a former three-term New Jersey senator and presidential candidate, has opened up about his personal experience with abortion, both in a new documentary about his life and while speaking to Political Theater on Friday.
In his new film “Rolling Along,” Bradley, who sought the presidential nomination in 2000, describes how, in the 1960s while playing for the New York Knicks, a woman he was dating became pregnant unintentionally. The woman, he said, opted to have an abortion — which was illegal and difficult to find at the time.
“Unbeknownst to me as I was frantically trying to find somebody who could help, she flew from her home in LA to Kansas City, where she apparently found somebody who knew how to do the procedure,” he said in the film.
They largely fell out of touch, but it’s something that he thought about during his political career — although he never disclosed the experience until decades later.
Nearly 20 years later, they ran into each other in an airport. Both were long married by then. Bradley said while he later had children, she said she never did.
“We both stood there staring at each other thinking the same thing,” he said.
Bradley introduced the topic during the film, a 91-minute monologue interspersed with film clips and still photos, by describing how he dealt with the issue as a candidate after his NBA career ended.
“Abortion came up in nearly every town meeting,” he said, adding that most of the women he knew or that he worked with supported abortion rights. “As a man I always felt awkward making decisions that affect a woman in such an intimate way. But that was part of the job.”
Now in a different political climate, Bradley, who said he has always been in favor of abortion rights despite his roots as an evangelical Christian, has finally opened up.
“It has never come up anywhere under any circumstances,” he told Roll Call.
“The key thing to healing, I think, is you have to be honest about yourself. And by being honest about yourself, you get some credibility so that other people can see their lives in your life,” he said, which he called necessary to “stitch back together that common humanity that’s been rent asunder by political division.”
In recent years, more current and former lawmakers have become more comfortable sharing their personal experiences with abortion — often decades after the experience.
Former Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., was the first — telling her story in February 2011 on the House floor during a debate over Planned Parenthood funding. She said she needed an abortion procedure known as a “dilation and evacuation” because of medical complications in a wanted pregnancy.
“I think there’s probably other women who serve in the Congress that have had to endure this experience,” she told MSNBC at the time.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., followed suit in 2019, writing in a New York Times column that she, too, had had an abortion when she was 21. In 2021, Jayapal joined Reps. Barbara Lee of California and Cori Bush of Missouri to testify about their experiences during a House hearing.
Both Lee and Rep. Gwen Moore of Wisconsin have spoken about seeking the procedure as teenagers before Roe v. Wade was decided, and Bush shared she needed an abortion after being raped in the 1990s.
In 2020, Democratic Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan became the first sitting senator to share an abortion story. His wife had an abortion after medical complications during their second pregnancy.