BBC World Service’s The Line Investigates journeyed to Capitol Hill in Washington DC in the US to speak to US Congresswoman Nita Lowey about her difficult life story.
It’s a week ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision which said women in the US have the right to end a pregnancy at any time.
And while many women in America have chosen an abortion, others feel lost.
When politics gets involved
Congresswoman Lowey, the senior Democrat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, represents a New York Congressional district.
And it’s where she became pregnant at the age of 17, after an illicit relationship.
She says being raped meant she never felt comfortable raising the child but having an abortion as an adult was her only chance of a happy and healthy future.
“I never imagined we would pass the bill or that a woman would have that choice on whether to have an abortion when she was 17 years old.
“I can remember coming to a hospital appointment – I was given a sheet and I had a document on it that listed the options: I had an abortion or I had a child.
“I said, ‘I’m going to have an abortion; I chose to have an abortion.’ “
As the daughter of Holocaust survivors, Nita Lowey says she learned the importance of the human soul, and not just the physical one.
Not so long ago she was in the streets with constituents, telling them the stories of all the young women her office had helped over the years, and gave them the option of having an abortion.
“When we start telling all these young women these stories I think that really really changes people’s minds and their attitudes. It really brings to mind their own vulnerabilities and their own pre-conceived ideas and I think that changes their thinking.
“It could make that call, that choice, not just about the health and well-being of that woman, but about themselves as a human being who could come to peace with knowing they were capable of having a beautiful life without a baby that wasn’t the baby they wanted.
“Then they would have the question in the back of their minds – what was I to do with my life? What was I to do with this pregnancy that I didn’t want?”
I would just hope that a young woman who’s raped would have the choice to access all the health care services and the privacy protections that they need to make the right decision. Nita Lowey, Democratic representative for New York’s 19th Congressional District
Sitting in Congress with Congresswoman Lowey is Marla Taylor, a Planned Parenthood Director for the Mid-Atlantic region.
But in 1994 Marla says one of the things Planned Parenthood offered her was a choice between a life with her rapist and an abortion, “What did I need to do in order to protect my life?”
Because Marla had been sexually assaulted she knew she would take any decision on an abortion hard, and rather than support a legal abortion Ms Taylor would encourage her to keep the baby.
After several weeks of fighting her emotions, Marla Taylor made the decision to go ahead with the abortion, and in that moment she believed what she knew to be true:
“That is who she is, that is what she wants and she can do it. There is no-one who can stop her. I did not choose her as an abortion but she chose me. “
“And so that for me changed my whole perspective on abortion. Because I had the choice, and I could make the choice and I could make the decision in the most independent way that I could because she really made that choice for me. “
As the Democratic representative on the House Appropriations Committee, Nita Lowey is part of the powerful and persistent pro-choice movement.
And now she’s helping to drive the cause forward in the US, she wants people to know abortion is safe.
When young women come to her office with life threatening pregnancies, Nita says she wants to let them know their options.
“I would just hope that a young woman who’s raped would have the choice to access all the health care services and the privacy protections that they need to make the right decision.”
Listen on NPR US here: This programme was designed and produced for public radio in the UK. Copyright: BBC World Service