As East Bay Assemblymember Buffy Wicks listened to the U.S. Supreme Court discuss a case this week that could gut abortion rights for millions of American women, she grew increasingly appalled by what at times has sounded to her like an abstract discussion mired in legalese.
So she decided to make it personal.
In a lengthy Twitter thread on Thursday evening, the Oakland Democrat revealed that she had undergone an emergency abortion procedure — dilation and curettage, commonly known as D&C — in September after learning she was pregnant and miscarrying.
“The way the doctor explained it, there wasn’t any decision to be made,” the 44-year-old wrote. “The choice was clear: I needed to undergo this procedure as a matter of healthcare.”
The court is considering a Mississippi case that could result in the overturning or weakening of Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that has guaranteed women the right to an abortion for nearly half a century. Earlier this fall, the court heard arguments in a case in Texas, which passed a law banning abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, with narrow exceptions for health reasons.
Scott Stewart, the lawyer for Mississippi, argued before the court that Roe has “no basis in the Constitution,” and that access to abortion shouldn’t be decided by judges.
“Abortion is a hard issue,” Stewart said. “It demands the best from all of us, not a judgment by just a few of us.”
Wicks said her experience was physically painful and emotionally wrenching. And while the specific abortion she had would technically have been permitted in Texas since her pregnancy was no longer viable, actually finding someone to perform the procedure would likely have been much more complicated than the short drive to her East Bay doctor. The Mississippi law, which would ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, also allows narrow exceptions for medical emergencies and severe fetal abnormality.
“Think about the cruelty involved in making it your aim to make life more difficult for someone in that situation: in great pain, bleeding profusely, barely able to walk, confused about what’s happening to them, unsure about where to go — and then forcing them to endure multi-state drives, or frantic rushes to the airport for the next flight to a state where getting the medically necessary healthcare they need is still legal and available,” she wrote. “And that’s assuming they have the privilege and means to get those options.”
In a phone interview Friday, Wicks said she shared her story to show people what the real-life impact of annihilating Roe could be.
“This is my personal experience that we are playing politics with,” she said. “If I can share my personal experience, that is a way I can hopefully connect with other people who don’t agree with me.”
“The experience I had is not uncommon,” she said. “But it’s stuff that people generally don’t talk about.”
In 2019, Wicks spoke on the Assembly floor about having an earlier abortion in her 20s when she was in between jobs, homes and without health insurance. And she’s been outspoken about bringing attention to issues facing women and families, last year bringing her infant daughter to the Assembly during the heart of the pandemic to vote after Speaker Anthony Rendon denied a request to vote by proxy.
Wicks, who has two young daughters, is not the first lawmaker to share her abortion experience publicly. Retiring U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, who represents much of the Peninsula, told her colleagues a decade ago about her abortion years earlier to end a wanted pregnancy. And earlier this year, three other House members, including Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland, testified about their own abortions.
Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School, praised Wicks for sharing her experience.
“While many of us have abstract conversations about the right to privacy, substantive due process, stare decisis and much more,” she said, “it’s important to be aware of real world effects.”
The current debate is not something Wicks anticipated as a younger woman who came of age at a time when the outcome of Roe v. Wade seemed set in stone.
“There was no debate about it, really,” she said. “I thought, and many of us thought, we won this battle. We thought generations before us won this battle.”