Democratic Rep. Katie Hill said the “shame” and the “emotional turmoil” she felt while deciding as a teenager whether to terminate her pregnancy helped shape her views “forever” on abortion and the role of government, an issue now dominating the spotlight as multiple states take steps to enact tighter restrictions.
In an interview with CNN, the freshman congresswoman who represents California’s 25th District, which includes a large portion of northern Los Angeles County, opened up in deeply personal terms about the agony she experienced dealing with an unplanned pregnancy at 18 years old and unveiled for the first time publicly that she can no longer have children.
“In this particular situation, there’s a shame involved, right?” Hill said, recalling the pregnancy and her decision process, “There’s this piece of ‘What did I do wrong?’ I felt like I was playing by the rules. How are people going to judge me and what does this mean for my life if I decide to do what I felt like I might just need to do. And how would that change things forever?”
“It’s all you can think about and knowing how much that was going to change your life,” she added, “And … what it would mean if I did have an abortion and how I might regret it forever.”
Hill said states like Alabama — which passed a near-total abortion ban this week — are “criminalizing something that is already so, so difficult for somebody to have to go through.”
On Friday, Missouri became the latest state legislature to pass a restrictive abortion bill, sending it to the desk of the state’s Republican governor, who is expected to sign it into law.
Hill criticized the gender makeup of the legislative bodies trying to change the laws. In Alabama, the 25 senators who voted in favor of the bill were all men, though the bill’s sponsor in the state House is a woman, as is the governor who signed the measure.
Still, Hill argued the decisions were heavily influenced by “old men” who “have never been and will never be in that situation.”
“What this says to women is that we think you’re incapable of making such a hard decision on your own,” she added. “We don’t think you have a moral compass, whatever that might be. We don’t think that you have the capacity to ultimately decide something that is so fundamentally part of who you are and who you will be.”
Hill became pregnant by her now-husband when she was 18 and they were using birth control. It was shocking, she said, and even though she was strongly supportive of abortion rights and volunteered for Planned Parenthood in high school, she said the decision process was far more tortuous than she expected.
“I knew my beliefs since I could really form my beliefs, and even then, it’s this incredibly difficult choice,” she said.
Hill admitted that she in the past had judged people who had unwanted pregnancies and that she always expected it would be an easy decision to get an abortion if she became pregnant before she was ready.
“But when you get there you realize that is not how it is,” she said. “It’s just not.”
About six weeks into her pregnancy, however, as she was still grappling whether to have the child or get an abortion, she had a miscarriage.
“I felt like ‘OK, this made the decision for me and it’s not meant to be right now,’ but at the same time, it is a loss,” she said. “And I think even for women who terminate a pregnancy it’s a loss. I’ve heard that over and over again.”
She and her husband tried to get pregnant again later on, but she said she developed problems with her ovaries and can no longer have children. Even now, Hill thinks back to the pregnancy and struggles with whether she “might have missed that window forever.”
While she didn’t have the abortion, she said the experience “solidified in my mind forever that there is no one else who can make that decision for a woman other than herself.”
Hill said she wanted to share her story to help defuse the incredibly charged debate over abortion.
“We need to connect with each other on an emotional level,” she said. “I also understand .. the perspective of people who truly believe that abortion is wrong. I understand that, I’m empathetic to that, I get it. But the place where I think we need to come to some kind of an understanding is that … you have your ability to have your own beliefs but the government doesn’t play a role in that.”