The House of Representatives on Tuesday held its first hearing on U.S. abortion policy since the recent wave of near-total abortion bans were signed into law in states across the country.
The hearing, held by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, was emotional, as invited guests shared their own experiences with seeking abortions. But it also included numerous attempts by Republicans to spread misinformation and steer the conversation to their manufactured “infanticide” controversy.
Guests included people who had abortions, like 18-year-old H.K. Gray, who got pregnant after unsuccessfully trying to get birth control. She knew she couldn’t afford to have a child — it’d be her second — and decided abortion was the right decision.
“We need more love and compassion for families and young people like me. I had a child, I had a miscarriage, and I had an abortion,” Gray told a panel of mostly white men.
“As we say at the National Network of Abortion Funds, everyone loves someone who had an abortion,” she added.
The hearing, titled “Threats to Reproductive Rights in America,” was intended to be a conversation about the challenges in accessing abortion and about how much worse the situation can become should the Supreme Court overturn its own decision, in Roe v. Wade, which established the constitutional right to the procedure in 1973.
But Republicans invited a guest — abortion survivor Melissa Ohden, whose account of her own birth has raised suspicions — giving them an opportunity to talk about “infanticide” instead of the recent anti-choice measures passed in states like Alabama, whose governor signed a near-total abortion ban into law weeks ago. That ban, even President Donald Trump says, goes too far and some Congressional Republicans have distanced themselves from the law when questioned about it by Capitol Hill reporters.
The hearing also gave pro-choice activists the opportunity to directly challenge lawmakers who’ve crafted legislation called the “Born-Alive Infants Protection Act” in response to a manufactured crisis around abortion later in pregnancy that Republicans refer to as “infanticide.”
“States already have laws in place to protect neonates,” said Dr. Yashica Robinson, the medical director for an Alabama abortion clinic. “But it is very, very important to understand that the scenario… described is not the scenario we are seeing in abortion care… It’s important to keep in mind that the majority of abortions take place early in the first trimester,” she added.
Robinson was responding to a question from Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), who initially posed the question to actress Busy Phillips; Phillips was invited to speak after publicly sharing her own experience obtaining an abortion. Gohmert asked Phillips if she agrees whether someone who survives an abortion has a right to life, referring to Ohden. After thanking Ohden for sharing her own story, Phillips responded in kind: “Although I play a doctor on television, I am not a physician … I don’t believe politician’s place is to decide what’s best… it’s a choice between a woman and her doctor.”
This isn’t the first instance in which Republican politicians have posed hypothetical questions. This year’s “infanticide” controversy began after Virginia Delegate Todd Gilbert (R) asked his colleague Kathy Tran (D) if her bill legalized abortion until the moment of birth. “Where it’s obvious that a woman is about to give birth,” Gilbert asked Tran, “would that still be a point at which she could request an abortion if she was so certified? She’s dilating.”
“My bill would allow that,” Tran responded.
The ensuing controversy lasted weeks, with Trump wrongly claiming that Democrats intend to kill babies, turning a complicated and rare situation (most abortions take place early in pregnancy, and just over 1 percent of abortions are performed at 21 weeks or later) into a full-on crisis.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Robinson did not fall into the same trap Tran did.
“Generally when there is a pregnancy where we induce in the third trimester, it’s for fetal indications. And in those cases, fetuses won’t live outside of the womb. They have medical diagnoses that would prevent that,” Robinson told lawmakers.
“When you purpose a scenario where you have a fetus live in the clinic, you ask, ‘would we render any care?’ she added. “But this is not happening in abortion clinics in Alabama.”
In another instance, lawmakers leaned on misinformation and distorted history in order to link abortion to eugenics. But Melissa Murray, a professor with New York University School of Law, pushed back when given the opportunity to speak.
“The history of eugenics in this country is laced with the taint of racism, but it goes in both directions. Not only was eugenics used to promote the use of contraception and sterilization, it was also used to promote abortion, but from the other side,” Murray told lawmakers.
“In the 1800s, when the first laws criminalizing abortion were enacted, it was because of nativist anxieties that native-born white women were not having as many children as their darker hued immigrant sisters,” she added.
While everyone in attendance tried to be respective of one another’s comments, no minds appeared to be changed. Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) began the hearing by asking people in attendance — most of whom were young people sporting Planned Parenthood apparel — to “examine the evidence” as they “owe it to [themselves] to do [their] own homework” before reaching a conclusion.
The comment didn’t sit well with Daniela Diaz, a We Testify storyteller in the audience, who told ThinkProgress by email that she “found that statement to be extremely condescending and stigmatizing.”
“Young people’s lived experiences, as well as value systems, bring them to stand by people who’ve had abortions and that human right. Young people know what they want … I had an abortion. I’ve actually worked at a clinic. I did my homework,” she added.