Ten Powerful Moments From This Week’s Unprecedented Congressional Hearings on Abortion

Lawmakers and activists urged Congress to see the abortion ban in Texas for what it is: an attack on democracy and the constitutional right to make personal decisions about one’s body.

2021 has been the worst year for abortion rights since Roe v. Wade, with more than 90 restrictions on abortion access enacted at the state level. Texas’s S.B. 8, the vigilante-enforced abortion ban at about six weeks of pregnancy, has been the most dramatic and concerning, effectively cutting off all abortion access in the state.

The Texas law takes on a new urgency when coupled with a pending case in front of the Supreme Court: On December 1, the Court will begin hearing oral arguments for the Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and will ultimately decide on the constitutionality of a 2018 Mississippi state law that banned abortion operations after the first 15 weeks of pregnancy. This decision has the potential to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark case protecting abortion rights. 

While jarring, these two instances have revealed the precarity of existing access and spurred a new urgency to secure abortion rights. In response, both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Oversight Committee held hearings Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, to hear from activists, lawmakers and other members of society on their perspectives on abortion access and S.B. 8.

Lawmakers, activists and legal scholars shared their urgent appeals, personal abortion stories and professional opinions at the congressional hearings. They shed light on what abortion access—and lack of access—means to women’s lives. The diverse testimonies urged Congress to see the abortion ban in Texas for what it is: an attack on democracy and the constitutional right to make personal decisions about one’s body.

Here are the top ten powerful moments from the unprecedented hearings.

1. Loretta Ross: “If You Don’t Care About Our Stories, I Don’t Know What It Takes to Reach Your Heart” 

Loretta Ross, reproductive justice activist and study of women and gender professor at Smith College.

Loretta Ross, reproductive justice activist and study of women and gender professor at Smith College, gave an unscripted testimony discussing her own experiences with sexual assault, abortion, and teen pregnancy.

“If you don’t care about our stories, I don’t know what it takes to reach your heart. But I can tell you, that having that theory that rape will just happen and you have to just accept that your life will be forever changed—if you have not lived that life, then I wonder if you really know what you’re talking about.”

2. Gloria Steinem Says Current Abortion Laws Turn Back the Clock on Access

Gloria Steinem during Wednesday’s testimony.

Feminist activist Gloria Steinem spoke about how present-day abortion laws were turning back the clock to the ’50s, when abortion was extremely difficult and dangerous to access, and had to be done covertly—reminding her of her own abortion experience. 

“After what seemed an eternity of confusion and fear, I found a very kind and brave doctor who was willing to help me by using the loophole allowed to a few women in that era of hypocrisy. ‘But you must promise me only two things,’ he said. ‘You must never tell anyone my name. And you must do what you want to do with your life.’”

3. Texas State Rep. Donna Howard: “S.B. 8 was the Culmination of a Decade of Erosion of Access to Abortion”

Texas state Rep. Donna Howard.

In her “quick summary of how we got here”, Texas state representative Donna Howard, chair of the Texas Women Healthcare Caucus, presented the facts of the battle against abortion access that has been raging on in her state for years. 

“It’s important to understand that S.B. 8 was preceded by policies and legislation that reduced access to care by creating medically unnecessary obstructions to healthcare. … Following the 2010 elections … there was an immediate effort to prevent healthcare providers who performed abortions from participating in the state’s Women’s health program by cutting the budget for women’s health by two thirds. … S.B. 8 was the culmination of a decade of erosion of access to abortion healthcare with the intent of creating a de facto ban, without actually calling it a ban.” 

4. Rep. Cori Bush: “We Have Nothing to Be Ashamed Of”

Representative Cori Bush (D-Mo.)

Representative Cori Bush (D-Mo.), shared her personal story of sexual assault, and her resulting pregnancy and abortion at the hearing, as well as medical discrimination she faced as a Black woman. She stressed the importance and positive impact of having a choice in her life. 

“To all the Black women and girls who have had or will have abortions—know this: we have nothing to be ashamed of. We live in a society that has failed to legislate love and justice for us. But we deserve better. We demand better. We are worthy of better.”

5. Rep. Pramila Jayapal: “It Is Simply Nobody’s Business” 

Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.)

Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) shared her own abortion story as well, stressing the difficulties of stigma, pregnancy issues and citizenship status when accessing reproductive rights. She pointed to the fact that one in four women have abortions, and the very real effects abortion bans have on vulnerable communities.

“Two years ago, I decided to tell my story as a member of Congress because I was so deeply concerned about the abortion ban legislation that was coming out from states across the country. 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.

“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. Let me be clear, I would never tell people who don’t choose to have an abortion that they should; nor should they tell me that I shouldn’t. This is a constitutionally protected, intensely personal choice.”

6. Doctor Ghazaleh Moayedi: “As a Physician, I Know First-Hand That Abortion Saves Lives”

Doctor Ghazaleh Moayedi, board member and fellow of Physicians for Reproductive Health and ob-gyn in Texas.

Doctor Ghazaleh Moayedi, board member and fellow of Physicians for Reproductive Health and an ob-gyn in Texas, testified in Thursday’s hearing to remind people of the important values the right to abortions represents—and the danger of denying that right. 

“S.B. 8 has not only caused a near total ban on abortion in Texas, it has also made it extremely dangerous to be a pregnant person in our state, where maternal morbidity and mortality are already unconscionably high, especially for Black women and pregnant people of color. Texas deserves better. … As a physician, I know first-hand that abortion saves lives. For the thousands of people I’ve cared for, abortion is a blessing. Abortion is a sacrifice. Abortion is freedom. As a mom and an ob-gyn, I know abortion care is part of supporting thriving families and communities. Access to timely, compassionate, and culturally relevant abortion care is a critical public health measure. All Texans have the human right to have children, the human right to parent their children in safe communities, and the human right to abortion care.”

7. Rep. Barbara Lee: “I Was Lucky to Have Made It”

Representative Barbara Lee (D-Calif.)

Representative Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) shared her personal story of an abortion she had at the age of 16. She stressed how the lack of sex education significantly impacted her experience, and how the only solutions she had heard about were all life-threatening methods until a family friend helped her get a medical abortion procedure in Mexico. 

“I was lucky to have made it—a lot of girls in my generation didn’t make it. They died from unsafe abortions. In the 1960s, unsafe septic abortions were the primary killer of African American women. We cannot, and will not, return to those days before Roe. We will be watching, very closely, the decisions of the Supreme Court.”

8. Stephen Vladeck Sounds the Alarm About the Supreme Court Shadow Docket 

Professor Stephen Vladeck, Charles Allan Wright chair in federal courts at University of Texas Law School.

Professor Stephen Vladeck, Charles Allan Wright chair in federal courts at University of Texas Law School, is extremely concerned about the Supreme Court’s decision to let S.B.8 go into effect. Using the shadow docket, the court made a rushed overnight decision that was justified only by a one-paragraph opinion, allowing an unconstitutional law to go into effect. Professor Vladeck is worried about the drastic increase in such decisions that seems to make it much easier for state legislatures to enact unconstitutional laws. 

“A universe in which our constitutional rights are worth nothing more than the whims of 50 state legislatures is not a federal system, it’s not a system with the rule of law and frankly it is not a system that is going to be sustainable in the long term.”

9. National Women’s Law Center’s Fatima Goss Graves: “I Am Extremely Concerned About the Policing of Women’s Bodies”

Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center

Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, leaves no doubt in her statements on Wednesday who is most affected by Texas’s unconstitutional abortion law: “Black and Indigenous and Latinx individuals who are disproportionately likely to live in poverty in Texas.”

She also emphasized the problems with vigilante policing, reminding the committee of the brutal past that vigilante justice has in this country. 

“Abortion access already happens in a backdrop where there is a long history of vigilante violence without that bounty, without that incentive. I am extremely concerned about the policing of women’s bodies in this way by their neighbors, by strangers, by anyone in the general populace.” 

10. Rep. Judy Chu: “No Constitutional Right Should Be Contingent on Where You Live”

Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.). (Talk Media News Archived Galleries / Creative Commons)

Representative Judy Chu (D-Calif), sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA), reminded the committee of the ongoing fight for abortion access that has been raging for a decade. She also described the current abysmal conditions of abortion access, emphasizing the importance of the WHPA. 

“Since 2011 anti-abortion extremists have introduced nearly 500 of these restrictive state laws. For instance mandatory ultrasounds, waiting periods or funerals for fetusus, all meant to shame people who access abortion care. … Abortion access is often determined by an individuals zip-code. Nearly 90 percent of American counties are without a single abortion provider and six states are down to their last abortion clinic. No constitutional right should be contingent on where you live.”

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About and

Hannah Beck is a former editorial intern for Ms. and a rising senior at Smith College. She is majoring in the study of women and gender and Spanish. Her academic interests include transnational feminism, queer history and theory as well as reproductive justice.
Leela de Paula is an editorial fellow at Ms. and a junior at Smith College studying government and gender studies. Her academic interests include global feminism, international politics and feminist legal theory. She calls many continents home.