Opinion: Build on Congressman John Lewis’ legacy and support abortion rights

July 17 marks the two-year anniversary of the passing of my friend, mentor and predecessor, Congressman John Lewis. As tributes pour in for Congressman Lewis, I was asked what he would think about the Supreme Court’s cruel and damaging decision to strip more than half the country of their right to access abortion.

I know what he would think. Congressman Lewis would have been furious and hurt. But most importantly, he would be moved to act, like he did throughout his entire life. I’ve been there on the front lines with Congressman Lewis, too.

In 2012, while I was the vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood Southeast, I marched with Congressman Lewis for the “Walk in My Shoes, Hear Our Voice” rally at the Georgia State Capitol. Standing at the front of the march with Mr. Lewis was invigorating and I imagine his presence was as electrifying when he was leading the charge for civil rights at the March on Washington or other critical events in the civil rights movement. We were marching after the State Senate passed legislation controlling access to abortion and birth control — measures that were exceptionally cruel even by the standards of the Georgia General Assembly. Leading us through the Georgia Capitol, Congressman Lewis told everyone marching that we needed to find a way to get in the way and cause some good trouble, necessary trouble. Because of the “good trouble” we got into that day, those bills did fail.

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams

Credit: Franmarie Metzler

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Credit: Franmarie Metzler

And Congressman Lewis would tell everyone who wants to preserve access to essential healthcare like abortion that after the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, getting into good trouble has never been more urgent.

This fight is far from over. We did not end up where we are overnight, and we are not going to fix it overnight. Republicans have mobilized for decades to get out-of-touch judges appointed across the country and they are harvesting their rotten fruit. The vast majority of the American people support abortion rights, and this is the fight of our lifetimes, The Supreme Court does not have the final word. The people do.

We have to keep fighting.

We have to keep pushing.

We must ensure that we have leaders at every level of government who truly represent us, and the will of the people.

We must make sure that none of our lifesaving, pro-choice legislation dies in the Senate. And we cannot back down. This is our generation’s moment. To anyone who is still sitting on the sidelines, my and Congressman Lewis’ message is that it is never the wrong time to do the right thing.

As we keep on fighting, we have to make sure that right now people can get the care they need. The Department of Health and Human Services set up a website, AbortionRights.gov so you can know your rights and what care is available to you.

I always say: “think about how much better the world would be if we all channeled our inner John Lewis.” Now is the time to do so. If you think abortion won’t impact you, you are wrong. One in four people in this country will need an abortion. That is someone you know, someone in your family, or someone you love. For their sake, remember the actions of Congressman Lewis.

I’m channeling my inner John Lewis for abortion rights. As whip of the Democratic Women’s Caucus and a member of the Congressional Pro Choice Caucus, I am constantly working to protect everyone’s right to access the healthcare they need. Just this week, I introduced the Right to Contraception Act and I voted to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022, and the Ensuring Access to Abortion Act. These three bills take significant steps to protect everyone’s right to access the healthcare they need and make their own health care decisions. No one needs Brian Kemp or Mitch McConnell in the room when making a personal, private healthcare decision.

As we reflect on Congressman Lewis’ life before the two-year anniversary of his passing, we must remember he was as strong of an ally as you could hope for in the fight for bodily autonomy and access to abortion. Let’s build on his legacy and protect access to abortion for everyone.

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, represents Georgia’s 5th Congressional District.