Congresswoman Cori Bush has shared the story of her own abortion in its entirety for the first time, joining at least two other Democratic lawmakers who are expected to detail their abortions in stark testimony before a House Oversight Committee on reproductive rights on Thursday.
“When I was 17, I was raped, became pregnant, and got an abortion,” she wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “And I am not ashamed.”
Bush disclosed her abortion earlier this month, at a reproductive rights rally on the steps of the Old Courthouse. Speaking to Vanity Fair this week, she disclosed the whole story.
In the summer of 1994, a 17-year-old Bush attended an annual church trip from St. Louis to Jackson, Mississippi. She had just broken up with her long-term boyfriend, the only person she’d ever been sexually intimate with. A leader for the youth delegation trip, a man in his early twenties that the girls were all “swooning over,” invited her to hang out, she told Vanity Fair.
In her hotel room, the situation escalated uncomfortably quickly. She and the man were sitting on the bed, when “all of a sudden we went from talking to, he was on top.” The alleged assailant took her clothes off and penetrated her, Bush said. She couldn’t process what was happening at the time, and didn’t. The next day, he pretended it hadn’t happened, she said.
Bush learned that she had become pregnant within weeks of the attack.
“Now I know that was a sexual assault. It’s even hard for me to say a little bit, because I’m still really trying to process all of it,” she said. “I didn’t see that as rape. I felt like I did something—I did something wrong.”
The freshman Democratic lawmaker has become well known for successfully fighting to reinstate eviction freezes. Recently, she’s turned her attention to attempts by state Republicans to outlaw abortions in Missouri.
At the Old Courthouse rally on Sept. 9, Bush appeared with Mayor Tishuara Jones to call for the protection of abortion care and the abolition of the filibuster.
She told her story there, according to The St. Louis American, saying that after she learned she was pregnant at 17, some family members ostracized her. “She went through a lot,” Bush said of herself, “but services were available to treat her.”
“That woman now stands before you as your United States Congresswoman,” she added.
Vanity Fair reported that Bush thought she’d never go to college after her pregnancy. She felt defeated, and like she’d disappointed her parents. She asked a mutual friend to tell her rapist about the pregnancy—and he responded by laughing.
Bush booked an abortion through a number in the yellow pages. Then 18, she arrived at a local clinic, where her car was surrounded by angry anti-abortion protesters.
Her experience became even more traumatic when she was forced to attend a “hostile” counseling session in order to undergo the procedure. The white woman counseling her told Bush her options were either abortion or welfare. It felt belittling and degrading.
Bush went ahead with the procedure, “a very cold situation,” and walked back to her car. The protesters were still there. “I remember thinking… You’re yelling at me, but you don’t know my story,” she recalled. “You’re not going to help me with this baby if I had the baby. I felt like there was no mercy, coming from people that didn’t even know me.”
Bush is one of at least three Democratic congresswomen expected to testify about their own abortions on Wednesday.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) told NBC News that she had an abortion in a back alley in Mexico before the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.
“My mother’s friend said, ‘Look, I know a very good doctor. But he’s in a back alley clinic in Mexico.’ She says, ‘I’m going to take care of her. You know, there are risks, but I know this doctor’s reputation.’ She said, ‘If this is what she wants to do, I want to help,’” she said.
“I was terrified. I didn’t know what was taking place. And in fact, you know, I survived, and why it’s so important now for me to tell the story is, I don’t want any woman to ever have to go through that… I know what that back alley looked like. I know what that dark light looked like… I see it right now. I’m one of the fortunate ones.”
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) told NBC she had an abortion after suffering postpartum depression that was so severe she contemplated suicide.
“I just realized that there was no way I could have another baby at that time, and that I could not go through what I had gone through,” she said.
“I had gone through postpartum depression after [her first child] Janak’s birth. I, you know, even contemplated suicide at one time. And I knew that I was not ready to go through that again, and that I needed to be strong for Janak. And so, I spoke to the person who became my husband, my loving partner at the time. He was completely supportive, and I decided to have an abortion.”
Bush said she feels it’s now more important than ever to speak up.
Referring to her own state’s abortion ban, which prohibits procedures without exception after eight weeks, Bush said, “If we don’t catch this, if we don’t stop this, it’s just gonna be more and more all across the country.”