Can Sharing Abortion Stories Really Change the Minds of People Determined to Ban Abortion?

During a Thursday Congressional hearing on reproductive rights, several Democratic legislators shared their abortion stories

Can Sharing Abortion Stories Really Change the Minds of People Determined to Ban Abortion?
Photo:Jacquelyn Martin (AP)

During a House Oversight Committee hearing on Thursday prompted by Texas’s new abortion ban, several Democratic legislators shared their own stories of getting abortions.

After Missouri Democratic Rep. Cori Bush was raped on a church trip when she was 17, she found out she was 9 weeks pregnant. At the clinic Bush went to, she was told that she would end up on food stamps and welfare if she had her child, while other white teenage patients said they were told they should have their babies and give them up for adoption, an experience which she said “worsened [her] shame.”

“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,” [Bush] said.

California Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee also shared the story of her own pre-Roe v. Wade abortion as a high school student in the 1960s, which involved her traveling to Mexico to find a doctor who would perform the procedure

“I’m sharing my story, even though I truly believe it is personal and really nobody’s business and certainly not the business of politicians,” said Lee, who is now a mother to two sons and has five grandchildren. “But I’m compelled to speak out because of the real risks of the clock being turned back to those days before Roe v. Wade, to the days when I was a teenager and had a back-alley abortion in Mexico.”

Democrat Rep. Pramila Jayapal from Washington dealt with severe postpartum depression following an earlier pregnancy, so when she got pregnant again she decided on an abortion.

“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. It is simply nobody’s business what choices we as pregnant people make about our own bodies,” said Jayapal.

While I commend all of these lawmakers for sharing their abortion stories, I can’t help but think of how many abortion stories I’ve heard throughout my life, and how little of a impact those individual narratives seem to make on the opinions and actions of the people determined to ban legal abortion. “It’s dispiriting,” former Jezebel reporter Esther Wang wrote in 2019, “that once again, women feel compelled to participate in what feels like an endless drip of confession, one whose intended audience refuses to not only listen but ideologically refutes the very premise of those experiences.” Unfortunately, attempting to appeal to the empathy of white male legislators when it comes to reproductive rights historically doesn’t tend to work out well for women.

When speaking to NPR about her testimony during the Thursday hearing, Bush said that she hoped sharing the story of her abortion in a Congressional hearing would make an impact:

“It was in this official setting, where it felt like, whatever I say, it has to produce,” said Bush, who is now a mother to two. “It has to produce something else versus it just being our stories, putting out this narrative. It has to turn into something, because this is the place where that happens.”

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