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Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Jayapal on Her Own Abortion & Why Biden Must Protect Right to Choose

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On Tuesday, 17 Democratic lawmakers, almost all women, were arrested outside the Supreme Court while protesting the court’s recent decision overturning Roe v. Wade. We speak with Congressmember Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who was one of several Democratic House members who has shared her personal experience of getting an abortion, about what a post-Roe America looks like. “Abortion and the right to make decisions about our own bodies is so innately tied to our ability to control everything in our lives,” says Jayapal. She argues Congress should be prepared to pass national legislation protecting other critical precedents that are now vulnerable to the ultra-conservative Supreme Court, like the right to contraception and marriage equality.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

On Tuesday, 17 Democratic lawmakers, almost all women, including Congressmembers Cori Bush, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar and Assistant House Speaker Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, were arrested outside the Supreme Court while protesting the court’s recent decision overturning Roe.

We’re speaking with Congressmember Pramila Jayapal. Last year, as chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, she testified about having her own abortion. We want to play a clip of that right now.

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL: I speak to you as one of the one in four women in America who have had an abortion. And for you to understand how I ultimately decided to have an abortion, I have to start earlier, with the birth of my first child, Janak.

Janak was born at 26-and-a-half weeks while I was on a two-year fellowship, living in India. They weighed only one pound 14 ounces and, upon birth, went down to a weight of just 21 ounces. Janak was so small, they fit in the palm of my hand — the size of a medium-sized squash. For three months, we did not know if Janak would live or die. They needed multiple blood transfusions, had to be fed drop by drop, and constantly had their heart stop and start.

We returned to the United States after three months. In those early, intensely difficult years, Janak had hydrocephalus — water on the brain — seizures and repeatedly returned to the emergency room because of life-threatening pneumonia. The fact that Janak is a 25-year-old beautiful human being is a true miracle and the greatest gift in my life.

At the same time that Janak was born, I was also fighting to keep my legal permanent resident status, married to a U.S. citizen with a U.S. citizen child now. In the end, I was able to return to the United States with Janak, provided that I started from scratch to qualify for citizenship.

As a new mom taking care of a very sick baby and recovering from major surgery myself, I was struggling. I experienced severe postpartum depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, that was only diagnosed after I contemplated suicide and realized I needed to seek help. My marriage did not survive. We split custody of Janak, and I was a part-time single parent.

Shortly after, I met a wonderful man, who is my husband today. I knew I was not ready to have another child, so I religiously took my daily contraceptive pill. Despite that, I became pregnant. I consulted with my doctors, who told me that any future pregnancy would likely also be high risk to me and the child, similar to what I had gone through with Janak. I very much wanted to have more children, but I simply could not imagine going through that again. After discussions with my partner, who was completely supportive of whatever choice I made, I decided to have an abortion.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Congressmember Pramila Jayapal testifying, bravely, in Congress last year. Congressmember Jayapal, since then, Roe v. Wade has been overturned. Your comments?

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL: Amy, it’s a catastrophic decision. And it is very clear to me that this decision, made by five Supreme Court justices who were appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote — have literally taken it upon themselves to overturn not just this precedent, but to prepare for overturning other precedent.

And we have to be clear that abortion and the right to make decisions about our own bodies is so innate and innately tied to our ability to control everything in our lives. These decisions are so nuanced. They require a knowledge of situations that nobody else has, except the pregnant person and the people that we choose to bring in as loved ones.

And so, I think we have to be clear that this decision is not going to make abortion go away. Abortion is going to continue to happen. And it is going to be illegal, criminalized. People are going to die. And so, we cannot let it stand. It’s why we have to codify Roe v. Wade. And we have to push back on this radical Supreme Court.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Congresswoman, I’d like to ask about another burning [inaudible] climate crisis. More than 1,100 people have died in heat waves in parts of Europe; and huge wildfires in Portugal, France and Spain; Britain under a national emergency. You tweeted on Tuesday, quote, “Brutal heatwaves across the country and the globe are shattering records. The climate crisis is here and now. Action cannot wait any longer.” Yet we’re seeing so many countries, as a result of the war in Ukraine, going back on their proposals, on their moves, in terms of addressing the climate crisis. Your take on the issue?

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL: Climate change has been one of my personal top priorities, but also a top priority for the Progressive Caucus. It’s why we fought so hard for that half a trillion-dollar investment in Build Back Better. It’s why we held up the infrastructure bill multiple times, even after every Democratic senator had voted for it and sent it over to us. But we wanted to see Build Back Better pass, which we did pass. But we also, since that has died, thanks to one senator, a Democratic senator in the Senate, refusing —

AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL: — to give his support — we have also called for a climate emergency and a whole slate of executive actions. And that is what we think the president must do now, with his executive authority.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you sorry he’s not doing it today?

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL: He’s got to do it quickly. I mean, it’s OK if it’s not today, but it should be today, tomorrow or in the immediate days, because that’s how urgent it is. And we need him to use every power that he has [inaudible] —

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Pramila Jayapal, we thank you so much.

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