The personal is political: Rep. Jackie Speier tells her abortion story

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Jackie Speier
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Jackie Speier (D) is the U.S. Representative for California's 12th congressional district, serving since 2008.


Being pro-choice means a lot of things: Above all else, it means supporting a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body during pregnancy, abortion included. But because the stigma surrounding abortion is still so, well, stigmatized, “being pro-choice” is often just an amorphous concept (albeit a powerful one) without real faces or stories behind the crusade to ensure women’s rights.

That’s why it’s so very important – and, unfortunately, all too surprising – when women like Rep. Jackie Speier take to the public sphere to tell their own abortion stories. Last Thursday, Rep. Speier (D-CA) took to the floor of the House of Representatives to state her vehement opposition to proposed cuts to Title X funding, which would mean defunding family planning service providers such as Planned Parenthood. Following a floor speech from Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) that graphically detailed abortion procedures, Rep Speier discarded her notes and spoke from the heart to tell her colleagues about her own abortion:

“I'm one of those women he spoke about just now. I had a procedure at 17 weeks pregnant with a child who moved from the vagina into the cervix. And that procedure that you just described is a procedure that I endured. I lost the baby. And for you to stand on this floor and suggest that somehow this is a procedure that is either welcomed or done cavalierly or done without any thought, is preposterous."

It should be noted that though the government currently provides about $317 million dollars to family planning service providers, including Planned Parenthood, these service providers are prohibited from using federal funds to perform abortions. Rather, the money funds increased access to family planning services such as contraceptive services and health screenings. Of course, these service providers disproportionately fund low-income families and minorities – which means defunding them would put low-income families and minorities at a disproportionate disadvantage when it comes not just to terminating unwanted pregnancies but to preventing them in the first place.

Despite Rep. Speier’s moving floor speech, the House of Representatives voted 240-185 in favor of the proposed Title X cuts, sending the bill on to the Senate for a vote. Although the Senate is not expected to pass this dangerous and demeaning a attack on women’s health, it’s important that those of us who support a woman’s right to choose make our voices heard at this critical legislative juncture. Planned Parenthood is collecting signatures for a petition to the Senate, and NARAL Pro-Choice America offers easy, one-click advocacy that allows you to send a pre-written letter of opposition to your Senators with just a few clicks of the mouse.

Rep. Speier’s courageous decision to tell her abortion story to her fellow Members of Congress – and, by extension, to the country – will surely not change the minds of those who view abortion as murder. But it’s this sort of personalizing of the issue that allows us to see the truth of abortion, including the pain, indecision and heavy sense of loss that often accompany it. Behind every political issue is a personal story, and last week, Rep. Speier reminded us of that.

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