Last week, the Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee heard arguments both for and against joining nine other states in passing a bill calling for a near-total abortion ban. Prior to the hearings, every speaker was promised ten minutes to make their case, but Cherisse Scott, CEO of a reproductive justice organization and the only black woman to speak at the hearing, had her mic cut and was ordered from the room when she attempted to speak about the legacy of white supremacy and America’s long history of denying black women bodily autonomy.
Scott, who runs SisterReach out of Memphis, Tennessee, told Vice that other speakers were given the full ten minutes, with some allowed to speak even longer. However, video footage of the hearing shows Judiciary Chair Mike Bell cutting her off mid-speech telling her, “You’ve gone way off subject,” though Scott says she had provided an outline of her statement before the hearing:
“The legislators made each of the speakers submit an outline of our statement a week or two in advance. I timed my statement when I wrote it to make sure it came in around 10 minutes—I knew better. And I knew there was a possibility they wouldn’t let me finish. By the time I got to the part of my statement about white supremacist ideology in Tennessee, they stopped me. Senator Mike Bell hit his gavel, he said “that was enough,” and he asked me to stop. But I had timed myself, so I knew I had enough time, and the other people who had spoken before me took 15, 20, even 30 minutes, with additional time for the committee to ask them questions. Then he motioned for the [sergeant-in-arms] to cut off my mic and remove me. I left of my own free will.”
Speaking to the committee as both a reproductive rights advocate and a black woman who was personally the victim of a crisis pregnancy center posing as an abortion clinic, Scott was hoping to address the ways black women, in particular, are now and have historically been affected by a system that denies them the right to control their own bodies:
When we’re talking about abortion bans, especially in the South, it’s important to remember the history of how America was founded. Black women have never had full autonomy over our bodies or self-determination over whether to be a parent or not. We’re still living in a culture of supremacy and colonialism. What they’re really afraid of is losing power through population in this country: White women have slowed down having babies, and they’re worried that the Black and brown people they’ve oppressed for hundreds of years will rise up against them. Our wombs are what they need to control in order to maintain control over the country.
As Bell gaveled her silent, called a recess, and ordered her escorted her out of the room, Scott was saying “You manipulated biblical scripture to align with your colonialist, supremacist ideologies instead of showing mercy.” His office has declined Vice’s request for comment. Here is Scott’s full statement.