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Pramila Jayapal Tells Her Abortion Story for the First Time

The congresswoman felt she had to speak out after the abortion bans in several states that "strip choice and constitutional rights away from pregnant people"

by Carter Sherman
Jun 13 2019, 8:34pm

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, one of the most consistently progressive voices in Congress, revealed in a New York Times op-ed Thursday that she had an abortion.

It’s the first time Jayapal has spoken publicly about her abortion, the Washington Democrat said. Her story arrives after several states, like Georgia and Ohio, recently passed bans trying to outlaw abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, and Alabama passed a law that would ban almost all abortions. A woman would only be able to undergo the procedure if her pregnancy posed a “serious health risk.”

“I have decided to speak about it now because I am deeply concerned about the intensified efforts to strip choice and constitutional rights away from pregnant people and the simplistic ways of trying to criminalize abortion,” wrote Jayapal, who serves as the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “For me, terminating my pregnancy was not an easy choice, but it was my choice. That is the single thing that has allowed me to live with the consequences of my decisions.”

Jayapal had the abortion several years after giving birth in India to her first child, Janak, who weighed just 1 pound, 14 ounces at birth, according to the op-ed. Janak needed multiple blood infusions, had underdeveloped internal organs, and could not eat.

“They were kept in a small translucent box in the neonatal intensive care unit and were stuck with needles constantly, each time emitting a painful bleating sound because their vocal cords were simply not developed,” Jayapal wrote. “I, too, was physically and emotionally weak, having gone through an emergency cesarean section, with concerns about infection that threatened my own life.”

After Jayapal moved with Janak to the United States, she separated from Janak’s father and met a man whom she would later marry. While Jayapal wanted more children with her new partner, her doctors warned her that she would likely face another “extremely high-risk” pregnancy.

So when she accidentally got pregnant again, Jayapal decided that she needed an abortion.

“It was excruciating. I wanted children, but I wasn’t ready, nor was I fully recovered. I was so grateful that Janak had survived, but I could not tempt fate again,” Jayapal said. “I could not simply hope for the best — I had to make a decision based on the tremendous risks that had been clearly laid out for me.”

Jayapal, now 53, is just one of several high-profile women who, following the passage of Georgia’s six-week abortion ban in May, have publicly said they underwent abortions. Actress Busy Phillips encouraged women to share their stories under the hashtag #YouKnowMe, after she told the audience of her now-cancelled talk show, “Busy Tonight,” about her abortion at age 15.

One in four women will have an abortion before age 45, Phillips said, citing a study published by the American Journal of Public Health. She went on, “That statistic sometimes surprises people, and maybe you’re sitting there thinking, ‘I don’t know a woman who would have an abortion.’ Well, you know me.”

Cover: UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 14: Rep.-elect Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., talks with the media outside of the Capitol Hill Hotel on the day freshman members checked in for orientation, November 14, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

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