The Very Uphill Battle To Protect Abortion In Congress | Crooked Media
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July 14, 2022
What A Day
The Very Uphill Battle To Protect Abortion In Congress

In This Episode

  • The House will vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act today in an effort to codify abortion rights — but without a Democratic majority in the Senate as well, it probably won’t go anywhere. Congresswoman Barbara Lee joins us to discuss what Democrats can actually do on a federal level to protect access to abortion right now.
  • A 10-year-old rape victim in Ohio had to cross state lines to Indiana a few weeks ago to get an abortion. Her story has garnered national attention recently, specifically from conservatives who sought to discredit it.
  • And in headlines: the gunman in the Buffalo, New York shooting was charged with 27 counts of federal hate crimes, a Russian airstrike killed at least 23 people in Ukraine, and Texas is suing the Biden administration over its new abortion guidance.


Show Notes:


  • Vote Save America: Fuck Bans Action Plan –
  • NPR: “A rape, an abortion, and a one-source story: a child’s ordeal becomes national news” –
  • Crooked Coffee is officially here. Our first blend, What A Morning, is available in medium and dark roasts. Wake up with your own bag at


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Erin Ryan: It’s Friday, July 15th. I’m Erin Ryan.


Abdul El-Sayed: And I’m Abdul El-Sayed, and this is What A Day, where we’re shouting out the person who carries sunscreen for President Biden as he tours the Middle East.


Erin Ryan: Yeah, please make sure our guy is appropriately greased up, because the sun out there is not nice.


Abdul El-Sayed: Well, actually, I think the sun is great, it’s just that that man doesn’t have enough melanin. On the show, the Buffalo, New York grocery store where a mass shooting happened last May, reopens today. Plus, a museum used X-rays to find a secret Van Gogh self-portrait under one of his other paintings.


Erin Ryan: But first, we’re going to discuss Congress’s fight for reproductive rights, where things are not looking good. Yesterday, the House debated a Democrat-led bill called the Women’s Health Protection Act. It’s pretty much an updated version of a protective abortion bill that failed to pass the Senate back in May. Here’s Texas Democratic Representative Sylvia Garcia on the House floor yesterday:.


[clip of Rep. Sylvia Garcia] While MAGA Republicans want to rip away women’s rights, House Democrats remain committed to standing with women. We trust women. For a second time, we will vote to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, to make the protections of Roe v. Wade the law of the land, once again.


Erin Ryan: The House will vote on this today where it’s expected to pass because of the Democratic majority there. But unfortunately, after this, it will move to the Senate where it still doesn’t have enough votes to get through.


Abdul El-Sayed: Also yesterday, Democrats in the Senate tried to pass a bill that would protect people who cross state lines to get a procedure. Erin, what happened there?


Erin Ryan: Nothing good! Unfortunately, it failed. The Freedom to Travel for Health Care Act would have legally shielded those who travel for an abortion, as well as their providers. It wasn’t even brought to the floor for a debate because Dems didn’t have the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster, because it turns out the Constitution maybe had some bad ideas in it.


Abdul El-Sayed: It seems like people care more about the filibuster than they care about the right to choose, which is a sad comment on our country.


Erin Ryan: I mean, I’m going to start calling my uterus the filibuster, and maybe it’ll get some legal protections.


Abdul El-Sayed: [laughs] So, Erin, on that note, what now?


Erin Ryan: The federal government continues to weigh how to move forward within this new reality, but with Congress’s slim Democratic majority, it’s becoming less and less likely that anything is going to happen, at least on the legislative side, before midterms in November. So we wanted to check in on what Dems can do, and I talked with Congresswoman Barbara Lee. She represents California’s 13th District, which includes cities like Oakland and Alameda. I caught up with her yesterday while she was at work, in between her voting on a number of bills, and she was actually stepping out to vote while I was interviewing her–it was really awesome. Like, we would be talking, there’d be a knock on the little chamber where she was, and she would have to go out and vote.


Abdul El-Sayed: I kind of love that. That’s like working for the people, and answering to the people at the same time.


Erin Ryan: A peek inside the process, if you will, and Abdul, hearing from her about this was pretty important because the issue is personal for her. In the 1960s, before the Supreme Court first ruled on Roe v. Wade, Congresswoman Lee herself traveled to Mexico when she was just 16-years old to receive an abortion. She first shared her story last fall, so we started by talking about the response she’s gotten since then.


Rep. Barbara Lee Let me tell you, that opened Pandora’s Box. I’ve had men come up to tell me about their wives or their girlfriends, their stories, and believe you me, a lot of men. And yes, I’ve had quite a few women come up and talk to me who still haven’t talked about it publicly, but some have. Some have said, You gave me the courage to go forward and talk about this. I mean, I did not talk about it. I mean, I had this abortion, I was a teenager way back in the ’60s. And my mother and I decided that was the right decision for me. And so I left California and went to Texas and went over the border to Mexico. And it was illegal there. It was legal in Texas. It was illegal in California, so the trauma that I felt about being put in jail was real. And I know what the trauma is right now about people worried about being put in jail. And that’s, again, why I shared the story, because I thought it was really important once these decisions came down and we knew Roe was at stake, to share my story, because up until then, it was a private decision made between my mother and myself, and it should have been private. No one should have to talk about this publicly. That’s the issue. It’s a personal, private decision. My conscience forced me to come forward and talk about it because I couldn’t sit back and let this happen, and part of that fight has to do with sharing what happened with myself so that other people could talk to me and so they could be empowered to share their stories also.


Erin Ryan: Last fall, in a hearing for the Congressional Committee on Oversight and Reform, you spoke out against Roe v. Wade being overturned. So now that the ruling has come down the way we all feared, is there anything to keep us from going back there?


Rep. Barbara Lee Well, we’re fighting hard to not go back there. And I know people are really afraid, traumatized. And there’s so many people, probably the majority now, who don’t know a world without Roe, and it is very, very scary. And so we have to look at the short-term long-term. Of course, we have to vote in November, but we have to know what we’re voting for. And what we’re voting for means that we have to vote to keep a pro-choice House of Representatives–0which now 100% in terms of pro-choice, pro-reproductive freedom members, they’re all Democrats. And we have to elect at least three or four more senators because we know there are two that just will not support carving out a filibuster carve out to protect our democracy, to protect our liberties, to protect our rights, so that we can get the Women’s Health Protection Act, which enshrines into law abortion rights. And so voting matters, representation matters. But it’s not all about voting. I mean, we have got to make sure that right now we have people who are in these terrible states with these abortion bans and restrictions, to help them travel, to help with their child care. They help primarily Black and brown people. And I would encourage you all to support what I’m trying to do with our pro-choice caucus, and that’s make sure that we have over-the-counter birth control pills, because, once again, low-income people, Black and brown people, people in red states especially, may or may not have health care coverage. In fact, most don’t. And so there are a lot of legs to this that we have to deal with like, right now.


Erin Ryan: Mm hmm. So at this point, Democrats still don’t have enough votes to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act in the Senate, so I don’t want to sound cynical here, but why spend energy on battles that Democrats can’t win? Or is the battle bigger than just the vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act?


Rep. Barbara Lee Well, let me tell you, if we had that attitude in the House, we may as well go home. The people need to know that we’re with them, first of all. So the fight is very important. And so this is about empowering people to move forward and demand accountability of their senators also. And so, no, don’t be cynical. Just know this is a fundamental struggle that really addresses our fundamental rights to privacy.


Erin Ryan: So you’ve been in Congress since 1998. You’ve seen a lot of change. After everything you’ve witnessed, what gives you the drive and fire to show up every day and keep fighting for your constituents?


Rep. Barbara Lee First of all, let me go back to when I was elected to the legislature in early ’90s, one of my first bills then–there were a lot of killing and shootings and people blocking access to abortion clinics–and one of the first bills I got signed into law was a bill enhancing penalties for blocking access to abortion clinics. And I was really proud of that. I don’t support enhancing sentences for most crimes, but I did, because these people were dangerous. And so what I need to fight the good fight is first, being a Black woman in America. The challenges that we face, my mother, my grandmother, my great grandmother, who was enslaved–I mean, come on. So it’s the fight that’s in us. And Black women especially have that in us because we know, as hard as this is, I mean, you know, I really hate what’s taking place and it really makes me angry, sad, heart-wrenching, and I’m going to do everything I can do to help people during this period. But I’m not going to give up and I’m not going to let that drag me down.


Erin Ryan: And Abdul, that was my conversation with California Congresswoman Barbara Lee.


Abdul El-Sayed: I really appreciate having heard Congresswoman Lee’s perspective on this. And thank you for a great interview.


Erin Ryan: Well, you’re welcome.


Abdul El-Sayed: Now we’re going to do a catch up for you on a story that’s been bubbling for the past several weeks, because it reflects why there needs to be national protections, just like the ones Congresswoman Lee talked about. Plus, it illustrates so many of the ways that anti-choice legislation post-Roe will fall hardest on the most vulnerable people. As a note, this story involves sexual assault of a minor and could be triggering for some listeners. A few months ago, a ten-year old girl in Ohio was raped and she became pregnant. On June 24th, the day the Supreme Court overturned Roe. She was exactly six-weeks’ pregnant. And because of Ohio’s law banning abortions after six weeks, a law that went into effect immediately because of that SCOTUS decision, the girl sought an abortion across state bounds in Indiana. I want you to understand something important here. The usual menstrual cycle can be anywhere from three weeks to six weeks, and the usual age for a first period can be anywhere from 8 to 12 years. Cycles don’t start all at once. They usually start in fits and starts, and it often takes a few cycles for someone to develop their usual cycle time. So the little girl may not even have known she could get pregnant, let alone that she did. The idea that she had only six weeks to get an abortion in that setting, that’s just obscene.


Erin Ryan: Yeah. And in a lot of places, when you’re ten years old, you haven’t even had sex-ed in school. So unless you’ve gotten an education at home, people are not really giving you accurate information about your own body and what it means. And it’s just a horrible story top to bottom. As the story gained traction internationally, conservative outlets and gadflies said the timeline of the story was suspicious and began to question its veracity because they couldn’t find and identify the 10-year old rape victim at its center–which, if we take a step back, shouldn’t be publicly available information. She’s a 10-year old sexual assault survivor! But it wasn’t just the Fox News’s and Newsmaxes that went down this path, the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler and The Wall Street Journal editorial page questioned the story as well. That is until this week when a 27-year old man was charged with raping a 10-year old girl in Ohio. Local journalists corroborated the original story’s veracity and the fact that the timeline wasn’t suspicious at all. The girl’s sexual assault was reported to authorities on June 22nd. The Supreme Court handed down their Dobbs ruling on June 24th, which triggered Ohio’s no-exception six-week abortion ban to immediately take effect, which means the girl had to seek abortion care outside of the state of Ohio. Horrific cause, horrific effect.


Abdul El-Sayed: You know, I wish every single one of the Supreme Court justices that voted to overturn Roe had to actually look this little girl in the eye. To illustrate just how mean-spirited these people are, the Republican attorney general of Indiana, Todd Rokita, announced just yesterday that he’ll investigate Dr. Caitlin Bernhardt, the abortion provider in the state who cared for the 10-year old girl who was six weeks and three days into the pregnancy, despite the fact that Indiana’s current law allows abortion until 22 weeks. Here’s Rokita in his own words.


[clip of Todd Rokita] We’re gathering the information. We’re gathering the evidence as we speak, and we’re going to fight this to the end, including looking at our licensure. If she failed to report it in Indiana, it’s a crime to intentionally not report.


Abdul El-Sayed: What does he think he’s fighting to the end?


Erin Ryan: Fighting what’s!? Fighting what, dude!?  What are you fighting? What a horrible person.


Abdul El-Sayed: This dude, he listens to the whole story, and he concludes that the doctor who provided a 10-year old girl who was raped, an abortion, is the one who needs to be investigated here.


Erin Ryan: And you know what? As somebody who works in law enforcement, he can’t not remember the fact that not long ago abortion providers were being assassinated. There was an attack in Colorado. There was a person attacked outside of a church service in Kansas. It’s an epidemic across the country that providers are attacked, and I can’t believe that he would stoke this. The girl is one of hundreds of people who have traveled to Indiana from nearby states to obtain abortion care since the Dobbs ruling. And it showcases how tragic it was that the Senate bill, the Freedom to Travel for Health Care Act, failed to advance yesterday. Although Indiana probably won’t be a sanctuary for abortion access for long. On July 25th, the state legislature will meet and likely enact an abortion ban there. And meanwhile, in Ohio, lawmakers are working on laws that would ban all abortions at all stages of pregnancy, with no exceptions, putting the state on par human rights wise with such countries as El Salvador, Honduras, Egypt, and the Philippines.


Abdul El-Sayed: I want people to understand these are places where people can be thrown in jail, literally, for having an abortion.


Erin Ryan: And they are thrown in jail all the time, for miscarrying. They are thrown in jail for being suspected of having abortions.


Abdul El-Sayed: So that’s our catch up for you on this story that’s been out there. We’re going to put a link in our show notes to some important reporting that goes into even more detail on this. We’ll also have links to Crooked’s own Fuck Bands Action Plan, so you can donate to local organizations, work on passing local measures, and more. And that’s the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads.


[ad break].


Erin Ryan: Let’s get to some headlines.


[sung] Headlines.


Abdul El-Sayed: The white man accused of shooting and killing ten Black people at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York in May, was indicted on 27 federal hate crimes charges yesterday by a grand jury. If convicted on all of them, he could receive the maximum sentence of either life in prison or the death penalty. And Attorney General Merrick Garland, said on Thursday that the Justice Department, quote, “fully recognizes the threat that white supremacist violence poses to the safety of the American people and American democracy.” Meanwhile, the grocery store where the shooting took place, Tops Friendly Market, held a moment of silence for the victims yesterday, and the location is set to reopen today, just two months after the devastating attack. And I just want folks to remember that this was a market that so many people in the community worked to open to make sure that it offered high-quality food to people in that community, so the fact that it’s been closed for two months is itself a real issue.


Erin Ryan: Yeah, it’s great to see it reopen, and horrible that it had to close down in the first place. Russia continued its violent assault on Ukrainian civilians yesterday with more deadly airstrikes, this time in the central city of Vinnytsia. A series of cruise missiles killed at least 23 people there on Thursday, and the attack left at least 70 others injured. Over 50 buildings were destroyed and three children were among the dead. As we go to record this at 9:30 p.m. Eastern last night, the Ukrainian State Emergency Service is still searching for dozens of missing people under the rubble in hopes that they’ve survived. Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelinskyy said of the attacks, quote, “What is this if not an open act of terrorism?”


Abdul El-Sayed: The state of Texas is suing the Biden administration over its new guidance, stating that doctors must provide abortions to pregnant people in the case of an emergency, even if their state has banned the procedure. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton–the same guy who said that gender-affirming care for trans kids should be considered child abuse–announced the suit on Thursday, and he argued that Biden’s order violates a doctor’s right to choose–a doctor’s right to choose?!–whether or not they want to terminate a pregnancy.


Erin Ryan: A doctor?!


Abdul El-Sayed: Apparently that’s the person who should have the right to choose.


Erin Ryan: The real rights here are the doctors rights to choose? That’s bonkers.


Abdul El-Sayed: Paxton said it, quote unquote, “forces them” to break Texas’ law. The state is the first entity to legally challenge the White House’s new guidance, and conservative legal groups may follow suit in the coming days.


Erin Ryan: Can I just say that Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas is consistently one of the wrongest bitches in the game when it comes to literally everything.


Abdul El-Sayed: Literally everything.


Erin Ryan: Literally everything. And I can’t believe that a state with as many cool people as Texas consistently elects a person that has resting corruption face and is wrong about everything–but I digress. Italy’s prime minister and its parliament are in the midst of a textbook “wish I could qu-te you moment”. Prime Minister Mario Draghi said yesterday he would resign from the government, only to be told by the country’s president that his resignation was rejected. Draghi, whose nickname is literally Super Mario–and that’s not offensive to Italian people because it’s just a fact–has led a broad unity coalition in Italy since 2021, when he was appointed to help the country recover from the COVID-19 crisis. But that coalition has started showing cracks ahead of a planned election early next year. And those cracks broke wide open this week when members of the xenophobic, populist Five Star Movement walked out of Parliament over objections to a package to tackle Italy’s cost of living crisis. Draghi said that the walkout meant the conditions for a functional government, quote, “no longer exist.” But Italy’s president wants him to stay on a little longer to see if the country’s moment of cross-party unity can last.


Abdul El-Sayed: I feel like he’s taking the Super Mario thing super serious. He’s like, Dude, you died in the middle of the last stage, you don’t just get to go to the beginning and try again.


Erin Ryan: You got to make it to the end and jump up and grab the flag and pull it all the way down.


Abdul El-Sayed: [makes beeping noises] All right. And tragically, we are back on our Lauren Boebert beat. The far-right Colorado congresswoman’s gun-themed restaurant, “Shooter’s Grill,” closed on Sunday after the building’s landlord chose not to renew the lease.


Erin Ryan: Nooooooooooo!


Abdul El-Sayed: The halal meat options at Shooter’s Grill, they were amazing–amazingly nonexistent. Same goes for Boebert’s campaign office, which is in the same building, but the landlord said politics were not a motivating factor. All this means that if you’re in northwest Colorado and want armed waitresses to serve you bone-dry potato skins, you are out of luck, for now. Yet another reason for Boebert to step down from Congress and go back to serving the people in her hometown.


Erin Ryan: A new sighting of the art world’s most famous ear: Vincent Van Gogh apparently painted a self-portrait on the back of another canvas and it was revealed for the first time this week at the National Gallery of Scotland, thanks to X-ray technology. The work is now one of only 36 known Van Gogh self-portraits in existence–Wait a second! He drew his own face 36 times? I’ve drawn my own face zero times–but don’t expect to take a harshly-lit museum selfie in front of it anytime soon. For now, it’s covered in layers of glue and cardboard, and removing them so it can be seen by the naked eye will require time and care. Curators named 2023 as the year that this depiction of the patron saint of sensitive ginger boys will be put on public display–take that, Ed Sheeran. It’s Vincent Van Gogh! He’s the real patron saint of sensitive ginger boys.


Abdul El-Sayed: Can you imagine a world where Van Gogh and Ed Sheeran meet?


Erin Ryan: They have to fight.


Abdul El-Sayed: No.


Erin Ryan: They have to fight.


Abdul El-Sayed: They’re too sensitive. Like, how could they fight?


Erin Ryan: Van Gogh would draw himself. Ed Sheeran would sing about himself.


Abdul El-Sayed: Here’s what would happen: Van Gogh would draw Ed Sheeran singing about Van Gogh.


Erin Ryan: Oooh. I don’t want to hang that in my house. And those are the headlines.


Abdul El-Sayed: In the time-honored words of one Liz Cheney, “one more item before we go.” If you’d like to help register millions of women across the country and stay caffeinated all the way through our podcasts, we’ve got you covered. Crooked’s Coffee is now live on It tastes great. We got it in medium and dark roast for those of you who can tell the difference, and most importantly, we’re donating a portion of the proceeds to Register Her, to help millions of women across the country vote. Go to Crooked dot com/coffee to get your Crooked coffee today.


Erin Ryan: That’s all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, salute the patron saint of sensitive ginger boys, and tell your friends to listen.


Abdul El-Sayed: And if you’re into reading, and not just the menu at the restaurant that replaces Shooters like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Abdul El-Sayed.


Erin Ryan: And I’m Erin Ryan.


[together] And keep Joe Biden out of the sun!


Erin Ryan: Oh, man. He needs a hat.


Abdul El-Sayed: He needs melanin!


Erin Ryan: If you’re under 2-years old, you’re over 70-years old, it hats, or nothing.


Abdul El-Sayed: Fair.


Priyanka Aribindi: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producer is Leo Duran. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.