WASHINGTON -- Before Rep. Jackie Speier took the House floor late on Thursday night, New Jersey Republican Chris Smith used his time to graphically describe the process of an abortion. That's when the California Democrat decided to scrap her planned remarks.
"That procedure that you just talk about was a procedure that I endured," she told a hushed chamber. "I really planned to speak about something else, but the gentleman from New Jersey just put my stomach in knots, because I'm one of those women he spoke about just now. I had a procedure at 17 weeks pregnant with a child who moved from the vagina into the cervix."
After a weighty pause, Speier went on. "I lost a baby," she said, pausing again. "But for you to stand on this floor and suggest, as you have, that somehow this is a procedure that is either welcomed or done cavalierly or done without any thought is preposterous."
While she was a young congressional staffer, Speier was shot during the Jonestown Massacre. The Hill reported that as Speier began to tell her story, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) took a seat to listen.
"I read about it this morning in the Washington Post, and when I got to the part of the article talking about what Jackie did and said, my first thing was, 'As soon as I get to the office, I'm sending her flowers. She is so courageous. It's so courageous," Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, told HuffPost. "I think she's one of the most -- I think she is the most courageous woman in Congress. Yesterday, she certainly was."
Republicans are currently pushing a piece of legislation, spearheaded by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), meant to strip Planned Parenthood of all federal funding. The Pence measure would also prevent any entity that provides abortion services from receiving funds through Title X, which is meant to increase access to contraceptive services, supplies and information, especially among low-income Americans.
A vote on the Pence amendment is expected Friday. [UPDATE: the Pence measure defunding Planned Parenthood passed.]
O'Neill said that the assault on contraception and family planning, which broadens the abortion battlefield, has long been the aim of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. "The men in the black dresses -- the guys who like to dress up in the black robes, and I'm talking about the Catholic bishops -- have been doing this for decades. Their goal is to deprive women of reproductive health care services generally. Their strategy is to go after abortion first, contraception second," she said. "One in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime. So, in fact, abortion is an essential, ordinary part of women's reproductive health care needs."
Speier questioned how an abortion debate was relevant to the House GOP's campaign pledges to focus on job creation. "To think that we are here tonight debating this issue when the American people, if they are listening, are scratching their heads and wondering, What does this have to do with me getting a job? What does this have to do with reducing the deficit? And the answer is, nothing at all," she said. "There is a vendetta against Planned Parenthood, and it was played out in this room tonight. Planned Parenthood has a right to operate. Planned Parenthood has a right to provide family planning services. Planned parenthood has a right to perform abortions. Last time you checked, abortions were legal in this country."
No federal funds are used by Planned Parenthood for abortion services, and such services make up a tiny fraction of its operations. Jess McIntosh, a spokeswoman for Emily's List, a Democratic-affiliated group that works to elect pro-choice women to Congress, noted that one in five women have visited a Planned Parenthood for health-related services, which will make the organization harder to demonize than ACORN, despite the similar assault being waged.
"This is a really clear example of why it's important that we have a representative Congress. You don't get that experience with a roomful of men," said McIntosh. "Republicans are trying to demonize women by describing faceless procedures with no real life consequences. And what Representative Speier did yesterday was make that impossible. She put a human face on a real life choice. It' much harder to demagogue that."