They remember a time before Roe. Now the Bay Area’s members of Congress are leading the charge to protect abortion rights

May 6, 2022
In The News

WASHINGTON — As abortion may once again become illegal in large swaths of the country, no delegation to Congress may have as much personal connection to the issue as the Bay Area’s.

Of the 12 Democratic lawmakers who represent substantial portions of the Bay Area, half are women, all of whom reached adulthood before abortion was legalized nationally by the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. Two of them, Reps. Jackie Speier of San Mateo and Barbara Lee of Oakland, are among the few members of Congress who have publicly shared their own abortion stories. At the vanguard of the delegation is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, who often speaks on her support for abortion rights from her perspective as a devout Catholic mother.

Now, in the wake of a leaked draft of a Supreme Court decision that would erase the 50-year-old constitutional right to abortion, this group is leading the charge to codify abortion rights into federal law. The effort won’t be successful, as there remain fewer than the 60 votes required to advance legislation in the Senate. But their voices will be front and center as the nation grapples with a new era of reproductive politics. Adding to the charge will be another highly visible politician from the Bay Area — Vice President Kamala Harris, who has already been a forceful voice for abortion rights for the administration in the aftermath of the leak.

“There is power in numbers,” Rep. Anna Eshoo of Palo Alto said Friday at a news conference in Mountain View, surrounded by local female leaders. “If this picture is a source of inspiration to you, we rejoice in that. ... Never before has this taken place in our country, a right taken away. We know what the implications, the devastating impacts of it. But in this power of numbers, we send a message: That more power in numbers need to turn out at the ballot box.”

Lee’s abortion came before Roe was legal, when she was just 16 years old. Living in El Paso, Texas, at the time, she traveled to Mexico to have the procedure, and counts herself lucky it was done safely. She first opened up about the experience last year, and told Elle in a recent sitdown with Speier and other lawmakers sharing their stories: “I knew what was happening to women who had these back-alley abortions, because then, for Black girls and women, that was a cause of death for so many of us. ... I thanked God that I survived, because I knew so many women hadn’t.”

Lee told The Chronicle in an interview that it took her a long time to reveal the experience. Even after Speier became the first member of Congress to reveal her own abortion story on the House floor in a dramatic 2011 debate, Lee said she congratulated Speier but didn’t tell her own story.