Democratic Rep. Cori Bush broke down in tears during an emotional reproductive rights hearing on Thursday, where she shared testimony about her own experiences of being raped at age 17 and the ‘anguish’ she felt at seeking an abortion when she learned she was pregnant.
The 45-year-old Democrat, who is a member of the party’s Squad and was seen having her tears wiped away by fellow progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez during the hearing, opened up about her feelings of ‘guilt’ and ‘shame’ over the sexual assault – while recalling the discrimination she says she experienced as a young black woman seeking an abortion.
Beginning her testimony at the Oversight Committee hearing, which took place one month after Texas implemented a senate bill that bans nearly all abortions after six weeks, Bush recounted the moment she was raped by an unnamed 20-something church member during a youth delegation trip to Jackson, Mississippi, in the summer of 1994.
‘I was a young girl all of 17 years old and had just graduated high school. Like so many black girls during that time, I was obsessed with fashion and gold jewelry and how I physically showed up in the world,’ she stated.
Upset: Democratic Representative Cori Bush broke down in tears during an Oversight Committee hearing on reproductive rights after sharing her own abortion story
Speaking out: Bush, now 45, shared poignant testimony about being raped at the age of 17, opening up about the ‘shame’ and ‘guilt’ she felt over the attack
‘I didn’t know what to do’: The mother-of-two recalled being ‘frozen in shock’ during the attack at the hands of a church member during a youth delegation trip in the summer of 1994
Bush’s fellow progressive Squad member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was seen wiping away her tears during the hearing
Bush explained that she had been introduced to her attacker – who was ‘a friend of a friend’ and ‘maybe about 20 years old’ – during the trip, describing how the two ‘flirted and talked on the phone’, before he asked whether he could ‘come over to her room’.
‘I was bunking with a friend and hanging out and said he could stop by,’ she said. ‘But he didn’t show up for a few hours, and by the time he did, it was so late that my friend and I had gone to bed.
‘I answered the door and quietly told him he could come in, imagining that we would talk and laugh, like we had done over the phone. But the next thing I knew, he was on top of me, messing with my clothes and not saying anything at all.’
Bush told the hearing that she was left ‘frozen in shock’ by the man’s actions and recalled thinking to herself, ‘What is happening?’
‘I didn’t know what to do. I was frozen in shock, just laying there as his weight pressed down upon me. When he was done, he got up, he pulled up his pants, and without a word, he left. That was it,’ she continued.
After the rape, Bush said she felt ‘confused, embarrassed, and ashamed’, admitting that she questioned whether she had ‘done something’ to provoke her attacker, who refused to speak to her for the rest of the trip.
A few weeks later, the then-18-year-old discovered that she was pregnant – a realization that left her ‘panicked’ and feeling ‘so alone’ as she questioned whether it would be possible for her to raise a child by herself.
‘I reached out to a friend and asked the guy from the church trip to contact me,’ she said. ‘I waited for him to reach out, but he never did. I never heard from him. I was 18, I was broke, and I felt so alone. I blamed myself for what had happened to me.’
Bush continued: ‘How could I make this pregnancy work? How could I, at 18 years old and barely scraping by, support a child on my own? And I would have been on my own.
Support: AOC was then seen drawing Bush into a hug
Breaking down: The progressive Rep was seen wiping away tears as she prepared to give her testimony, during which she slammed the ‘failure to legislate justice for black girls’
Helping hand: Bush, seen talking to an aid, told the hearing that she was ‘treated like trash’ when she went to the clinic for her abortion
‘I was stressed out knowing that the father wouldn’t be involved, and I feared my parents would kick me out of the home, the best parents in the world, but I feared they would kick me out.’
Bush made the decision to get an abortion at a clinic that she found in the yellow pages – an experience that she says only served to ‘worsen her shame’ after she was ‘talked to like trash’ by staff members who told her she would ‘wind up on food stamps and welfare’ if she had the baby.
‘My abortion happened on a Saturday,’ she told the hearing. ‘There were a few other people in the clinic waiting room, including one other young black girl.
‘I overheard the clinic staff talking about her, saying she had ruined her life and that’s what “they” do — they being black girls like us.
‘Before the procedure, I remember going in for counseling and being told that if I moved forward with this pregnancy, my baby would be “jacked up” because the fetus was already malnourished and underweight. [I remember] being told that if I had this baby, I would wind up on food stamps and welfare.
‘I was being talked to like trash, and it worsened my shame.’
Bush said she was made to feel even worse when she spoke to some of the young white women at the clinic, claiming that they were given a very different speech by the counselor.
‘I heard some other girls, all white, talking about how they were told how bright their futures were, how loved their babies would be if they adopted, and that their options and their opportunities were limitless,’ she said.
‘In that moment, listening to those girls, I felt anguish. I felt like I had failed.’
Bush’s testimony comes just one day after she opened up about her rape for the first time during an interview with Vanity Fair – and one month after Texas passed a senate bill that bans nearly all abortions in the state after six weeks.
Thursday’s hearing was held to ‘examine the urgent need to protect and expand abortion rights and access’ – which are currently the subject of a bitter legal battle in Bush’s own home state of Missouri, where legislators are trying to push through a law that would ban nearly all abortions after eight weeks.
Concluding her testimony, the emotional congresswoman, who was one of three representatives to speak out about their abortion experiences during the hearing, blasted the country’s legal system for allowing anti-abortion laws to pass – insisting that ‘society has… failed to legislate love and justice for [black women and girls]’.
Family: Bush is now a mother of two children, whose father is the Democratic Rep’s former husband – however she has kept his identity closely guarded
‘Choosing to have an abortion was the hardest decision I had ever made, but at 18 years old, I knew it was the right decision for me,’ she said.
‘It was freeing knowing I had options. Even still, it took long for me to feel like me again, until most recently, when I decided to give this speech.
‘So to all the black women and girls who have had abortions and will have abortions, we have nothing to be ashamed of. We live in a society that has failed to legislate love and justice for us. So we deserve better. We demand better. We are worthy of better. That’s why I’m here to tell my story.’
After her testimony, Bush was comforted by fellow Squad member AOC, who was pictured wiping away the mother-of-two’s tears, before drawing her into a hug.
According to Vanity Fair, Bush first publicly shared that she’d had an abortion earlier this month while speaking at a rally in her hometown, however this latest interview is the first time that she has revealed details about her rape.
Although Bush – who is a member of The Squad alongside fellow progressive Representatives AOC, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib – has been outspoken in her support of abortion rights, she has previously declined to reveal her own story.
Earlier this month, she blasted the Supreme Court after it declined to block Texas’ abortion law, a ruling that she compared to ‘far-right extremism’.
‘In the span of one week the Supreme Court forced 11 million households to face eviction and effectively overturned Roe v. Wade in the middle of the night,’ she said at the time.
‘This is what far-right extremism looks like. We need to expand the court.’
The Democrat says she has now chosen to speak out about her story in the hopes of ‘helping someone else’, and she plans to details own abortion experiences in Congress this week at a hearing on abortion rights that is due to take place on Thursday.
In particular, she wants to bring attention to the way in which women and people of color are treated within the health care system, slamming the ‘mistreatment’ that so many face – not only when it comes to abortion, but elsewhere within the field.
‘How far have we really come when black women and girls are still being so mistreated in our health system to the point of death?’ she told Vanity Fair. ‘Regardless of what type of health care we’re talking about, that’s still a thing.… The right to have an abortion is only one part of the need.’
Speaking to the publication about the impact that the assault and pregnancy had on her life, Bush says it came at a time when she already felt as though her ‘plan’ was being derailed.
She recalled how she and her father would chat about her going on to achieve a full scholarship to Howard University in Washington, D.C., and then ascend through the Capitol’s political ranks until she reached the position of US Attorney General.
But the freshman Rep says she faced so much harassment and discrimination at her ‘predominantly white high school’ that she struggled to motivate herself to keep achieving high grades – which soon began to slip.
After learning that she was pregnant, she still hoped to attend college, but in the end, she was left feeling so ‘defeated’ that she chose to opt out of higher education in favor of a full-time job.
Bush, who is a qualified nurse and a pastor, went on to found a church in St. Louis in 2011, before making a move into politics in 2016 when she campaigned for the US Senate Election in Missouri in the Democratic primary – a race that she ultimately lost to Secretary of State Jason Kander.
Last year, she was elected as her home state’s first-ever black congresswoman and soon after being sworn in, she joined the party’s progressive Squad.