Skip to Content


Opinion: From pain to power: My journey and our collective call for reproductive justice

The Hill

As I reflect on the 51st anniversary of Roe v. Wade this past week and put pen to paper, the decades of pain within me resurfaces, raw and unyielding. For over 50 years, I kept my silent struggle hidden; no one knew the depths of my anguish. Yet, after hearing countless stories of resilience and witnessing the relentless attacks on reproductive freedom, I could no longer remain silent.

Barely a year ago, I decided to unveil one of the darkest chapters of my life, a chapter that nearly claimed my life. I chose to find strength in my vulnerability and lay bare my stillbirth story on the House floor. I hoped that my colleagues, even within the Republican ranks, might find a compassionate pause and reconsider the profound impact of their efforts to stifle reproductive rights.

My story went viral, not because it is rare, but because it’s tragically common. Countless of us carry our untold stories — stories of survival through the horrors of rape and the heartbreak of denied abortions or the anguish of losing a child in stillbirth. Someone you know may have a story concealed due to the trauma of reliving it.

As a little girl, my dream was a home filled with the laughter of many children. So, in 1968, as a young schoolteacher, the joy of impending motherhood overwhelmed my husband and me. We were so proud and happy. That was before, however, at seven months, our baby boy’s kicks stopped.

Our world crumbled when our baby boy Wilson died in my womb; if the pain of losing a child wasn’t already enough, the law forbade the doctor from inducing labor because, at that time, Roe v. Wade had not yet become the law of the land. The pain of losing my child was compounded by the weight of abstract legal restrictions that would soon threaten my life. I lacked the strength to stand or get out of bed as my child’s remains disintegrated within me, causing me to go into toxic shock.

Months later, I was forced to deliver what was left of baby Wilson. Leaving the maternity ward in a wheelchair, arms empty and heart shattered, I saw families smiling with their newborns. We held a small graveside burial for baby boy Wilson while doctors feared that I might soon join him in the grave.

No one should endure what I faced. 

At the time before Roe v. Wade, folks often took matters into their own hands because they did not have access to an abortion.

So many women resorted to desperate measures to get an abortion—from inserting wire coat hangers into their bodies to seeking underground illegal, painful medical practices. A cottage industry of underground illegal abortion peddlers set up shop in less-than-ideal settings where women and girls would be left to face serious health complications alone, often bleeding out in a hotel bed.

We cannot forget that the women in this country who had to resort to extreme measures for reproductive health care were women of color who could not afford to travel to another country to get an abortion where it was legal.

Statistics reflecting the toll of lives lost due to illegal abortions in the U.S. are unrecorded but a real and grim consequence of these restrictive laws. 

This was the stark reality before Roe v. Wade, and on its 51st anniversary that passed this week, we find ourselves regressing as a society. 

It’s important to recognize that we’re not simply returning to a pre-Roe v. Wade era; we are heading somewhere worse. In South Carolina and Kentucky, Republicans proposed bills that would punish abortion by the death penalty. In Amarillo, Texas, they are pushing to sue anyone helping someone travel out of state for an abortion after six weeks. In Idaho, it would be a crime to perform an abortion even when a person’s health is in jeopardy—they would rather let people die than perform an abortion. From state to state, including my home state of Florida, out-of-touch politicians are restricting abortion without exceptions. 

For God’s sake, America, do not let us slide into a new, darker period in the relentless assault on reproductive rights. 

This struggle for reproductive justice goes hand in hand with the need to normalize open conversations about sex, recognizing it as a natural and pleasurable aspect of human life. Conservative politicians need to accept these facts. They live in this fantasy land where no one has sex, but when we fail to acknowledge that, the consequences are detrimental. Our longing for connection and pleasure is a natural part of the human experience, a gift from God. By normalizing discussions around sex and pleasure, we open avenues to educate on crucial topics like consent, contraception, protection, STDs and relationships. This empowers everyone to take charge of their sexual health and make more educated decisions, fostering a more informed and liberated society.

Additionally, fostering an environment in a society where young people feel at ease discussing sex with their parents is vital. Before Roe v. Wade, the fear of parental discovery led some to resort to unsafe abortions, resulting in tragic consequences. 

Our path forward demands unapologetic advocacy for reproductive justice—legal and accessible abortion for all, regardless of race, economic status or location. Support initiatives, donate to abortion funds, vote for pro-choice politicians and champion local efforts to safeguard abortion rights. 

The sliver of hope I have in this fight comes from the cries we’ve seen from people across this country. States like Ohio, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan have secured victories at the ballot box for reproductive freedom. I’m confident that in states across this nation, like my Sunshine State of Florida, people are fighting to put abortion on the ballot. People, not politicians, should be in control of their own reproductive health decisions.

The battle for reproductive justice becomes a collective responsibility in this chilling juncture. This fight is not exclusive; everyone, including men, must engage. We stand at a turning point in history — a choice between progress or regression, freedom or control. Let the echoes of our shared resistance drown out the oppressive forces. 

Together, we can ensure that future generations won’t revisit haunting tales of the past like mine.