Rep. Marie Newman Shares Her Abortion Story

Rep. Marie Newman didn’t expect to share her abortion story with the world. In fact, the Illinois congresswoman—who had an abortion as a 19-year-old college student and went on to defeat one of the last anti-abortion House Democrats in 2020—kept it a secret for decades as she wrestled with feelings of guilt and shame. But when she saw the news that the Supreme Court was set to overturn Roe v. Wade, according to a leaked draft opinion, she decided it was time. “What kept ringing in my head around the leaked decision was, oh my God, I was so lucky,” she told As a teenager, Newman had local, quality reproductive health care, an impossibility for millions of people across America. If Roe falls, about half the states are likely to ban abortion, further restricting access. “My particular story isn’t important,” she said. “But it is important for people to understand the gravity of this situation.” Below, in her own words, she explains what’s at stake.

I grew up in a strict, Republican, Catholic household where abortion was verboten. It was considered murder, and you just didn’t talk about it. But when I was 19, I knew I was not emotionally mature enough to have a baby. At the time, I was going to college in Wisconsin, and I’d just decided to do a double major of business and journalism. I was getting good grades; I loved my family and friends. Everything was going well, but still, I knew. I was scrubbing floors and tables to get through college; I was already so busy with school and an internship. The notion that I could raise a child was just not tenable, and I didn’t feel comfortable with anybody else raising that baby.

I took about two weeks to really consider my options—and you have to remember, when you’re 19, two weeks is a long time. I talked to different people on campus and at a nearby abortion clinic. And I was lucky. I had quality reproductive care right off campus, and the clinic treated me with respect and kindness. I had access. I had good counseling. I made the right, albeit very difficult, decision for me.

Within a month of having the abortion, I wanted to see if I could be “absolved of my sins” in the Catholic Church. I received absolution, and I was so grateful. It made my soul feel better, because at that point, I felt like I did something horribly wrong. For many years, there wasn’t a day that went by where I didn’t think about the abortion. That’s how it hung around my head. It took me a while to reconcile how I could keep my faith as a Catholic and still be comfortable with this.

Honestly, it took me 20 years to start telling people. Before then I couldn’t talk to anyone about it, except for my husband. I had kept it a complete secret. But over time, I was informed through my faith, society, and a lot of self-reflection, and I realized that this was me demonstrating agency over my body. It was not a shameful act. No woman should feel guilty for making a decision over her body, no matter the circumstances, and I finally got to a good place with it. But can you imagine? It took me until I was 40 years old to reconcile this in my head. For others who are struggling with this, I hope you get there a lot faster than I did.

marie newman

Newman on the steps of the United States Capitol.

Courtesy of Rep. Newman’s Office

Because what I do know is that I wouldn’t be where I am today—two amazing children, an amazing husband, a seat in Congress—if I had not made that choice. When I drove home from my college graduation, I promised myself I was going to work hard, I was going to keep up all my volunteer work, everything I had the time to do because I wasn’t raising a child at 19. I remember thinking, I can do this. The world is open to me, but it may not have been.

Still, I didn’t really intend to ever share my story. Up until this last year and a half, I felt like Roe v. Wade was a decision with strong precedent. I thought it would never be overturned. But then as the future of Roe became more precarious, I thought about telling my story several times. I wanted young women to know they do have choices, and they shouldn’t be shamed.

My goal was not to convert people who are anti-choice, but I do want more people who believe in choice to be good ambassadors. I believe that one-on-one, in our homes and in our neighborhoods, we’re much more effective at having persuasive arguments. Those living room and basement conversations are the most essential ones. My particular story isn’t important, but it is important for people to understand the gravity of this situation.

The fact that this right could be taken away from us should wake up all of Congress and all of America. I’m absolutely terrified, and that’s not hyperbole. It is very clear that if we don’t have quality access to abortion health care, women will die. I hang that around the necks of these conservative judges, who are deciding it’s okay for women in lower income brackets, women of color, women in rural areas to not have access to reproductive care.

Since that opinion was leaked, legislators at the state level have discussed banning IUDs, banning birth control, banning Plan B. This is a very slippery slope for women’s rights. It could erase everything. After this, they could go after pay equity. The next set of bills could be that women who can get pregnant or are pregnant should get paid less. Paid family leave will never happen.

“It is very clear that if we don’t have quality access to abortion health care, women will die.”

I fear that women are going to be expunged out of the economy because we won’t have choices over our bodies. We’re going to be expunged out of Congress. Pretty much every woman in Congress has kids, and if we don’t have the ability to make choices about our families, we’re going to lose women as our representatives. Right now, women are about 28 percent of the House. If we don’t codify Roe and pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, I think that number will shrink drastically over the next 10 years. At the end of the day, if you’re going to prevent our ability to be in Congress and have proper representation in this country, then it’s wrong, unpatriotic, and un-American.

When we say we won’t go back—that’s not a game, that’s not a tagline, that’s not an idiom. We won’t go back.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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