Calling the Republican-led House a "sandbox for extremism," a Democratic congresswoman who underwent two medically necessary abortions traveled to the 8th Congressional District to criticize Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh's claim that science and technological advancements have made the procedure largely unnecessary.
U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, of California, appeared Thursday morning at a news conference at Hoffman Estates Democrat Tammy Duckworth's Rolling Meadows campaign office. Duckworth is running against Walsh in a district that includes parts of Northwest Cook, eastern Kane and central DuPage counties.
Speier, 62, said she underwent an abortion at age 40 after the child she was carrying died at 10 weeks, and another abortion a year later when she was 17 weeks pregnant, when the baby became lodged in her cervix.
"We tried desperately to save that child," Speier said. She said she became compelled to tell her story to her House colleagues last year after a Republican graphically described the process of an abortion on the chamber floor.
On Thursday, she said House Republicans have, in the last two years, backed 55 different piece of legislation that she says undermine women's health and rights. "This issue has plagued Congress for the entire 112th Congress," she said.
Walsh's opposition to abortion in all cases -- including rape, incest and the life of the mother -- has drawn criticism from Duckworth since before the March primary and has been featured in a number of her ads and mailers.
But the issue took on new life a week ago following comments by Walsh that scientific advances meant abortion was not necessary to save the life of a mother.
He followed up those remarks with a news conference last Friday where he backed off his statements slightly, continuing to describe himself as "pro-life without exception" but also saying he would support some medical procedures for pregnant women even if they result in the loss of the baby.
"Outside of the very rare circumstances such as ectopic pregnancies and other rare health issues and circumstances, the research is pretty clear," Walsh said. "With the advances in modern medicine, an abortion is often not necessary to save the life of the mother."
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has disputed that view, releasing a statement last week that "abortions are necessary in a number of circumstances to save the life of a woman or to preserve her health."
In a statement Thursday, Walsh again reiterated his position, and added, "What happened to Congresswoman Speier and women like her is tragic and sad, and my thoughts go out to her."
Speier on Thursday tied the emotional health of women to the necessity of allowing the procedure.
"If we prevent abortions from taking place, that would mean that women who miscarry in this county would have to carry those fetuses until they somehow expelled," she said. "It's a profound experience to know that you had life in your uterus and now it is dead."
Walsh has said he will spend the remaining days of the campaign talking about the economy.
He criticized Duckworth for "bringing out a colleague of mine who endured a tragic time in her life, that I only feel sadness for and support her decision."
Duckworth -- who has tied the McHenry Tea Partyer's statements to controversial remarks about abortion made by Republican Senate candidates Todd Akin, of Missouri, and Richard Mourdock, of Indiana -- said it's Walsh who's taking a focus off the economy.
"Mr. Walsh has made it clear that this is a priority," Duckworth said. "And because of that, it has become an issue in the 8th Congressional District."