The US House of Representatives voted to restore abortion rights nationwide in Democrats’ first legislative response to the landmark Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.
The bill has little chance of becoming law, as it lacks the necessary support in the Senate 50-50. However, the vote marks the beginning of a new era in the debate, as lawmakers, governors and legislatures grapple with the impact of the court’s decision.
The legislation passed 219-210. The House also passed a second bill to prohibit the punishment of a woman or child who chooses to travel to another state for an abortion, 223-205.
“Just three weeks ago, the Supreme Court gutted fundamental rights by overturning Roe v. Wade,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said before the vote, gathered with other female Democrats on the steps of the Capitol. “It is outrageous that 50 years later, women have to return to fight for our most basic rights against an extremist court.”
Republicans spoke out strongly against both bills, praising the Supreme Court’s decision and warning that the legislation would go further than Roe when it comes to legalizing abortion.
Urging her colleagues to vote no, Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers from Washington called abortion “the biggest human rights issue of our generation.”
He said the Democratic legislation “has nothing to do with protecting women’s health. It has everything to do with imposing an extreme agenda on the American people.”
By striking down Roe, the court has allowed states to enact strict limits on abortion, including many that had previously been deemed unconstitutional. The ruling is expected to lead to abortion bans in about half of the states.
Several Republican-controlled states have already moved quickly to restrict or ban abortion, while Democratic-controlled states have sought to defend access. Voters now rank abortion as one of the most pressing issues facing the country, a shift in priorities that Democrats hope will reshape the political landscape in their favor by the midterm elections.
This is the second time the House has passed the bill, which would expand protections Roe had previously provided by banning what supporters say are medically unnecessary restrictions that block access to safe and affordable abortions. It would prevent abortion bans before 24 weeks, which is when fetal viability, the ability of a human fetus to survive outside the womb, is generally thought to begin. Allows exceptions for abortions after fetal viability when a provider determines the life or health of the mother is at risk.
The Democrats’ proposal would also prevent states from requiring providers to share “medically inaccurate” information, or requiring additional testing or waiting periods, often with the goal of dissuading a patient from having an abortion.
The bill that would ban punishment for out-of-state travel would specify that doctors cannot be punished for providing reproductive care outside of their home state. Democratic Rep. Lizzie Fletcher of Texas, one of the bill’s authors, said the travel threats “do not reflect the fundamental rights that are granted in our Constitution.”
Democrats have highlighted the case of a 10-year-old girl who had to cross state lines into Indiana to get an abortion after being raped, calling it an example of how the court’s decision is already having dire consequences.
“We don’t have to imagine why this might matter. We do not need to conjure hypotheses. We already know what happened,” Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Thursday on the Senate floor.
“Should the next 10-year-old’s or 12-year-old’s or 14-year-old’s right to desperately needed care be jeopardized?”
The Constitution does not explicitly say that interstate travel is a right, although the Supreme Court has said it is a right that “has been firmly established and repeatedly recognized.” However, the court has never said exactly where the right to travel comes from and that could leave it open to challenge or elimination, as was the right to abortion.
Missouri lawmakers earlier this year, for example, considered outlawing “aiding or abetting” abortions that violate Missouri law, even if they occur outside the state. The proposal was finally shelved.
Democrats have prepared more bills for approval in the coming weeks. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said Friday that the House will vote next week on legislation guaranteeing the right to contraception.
Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, who supports instituting a national abortion ban, accused colleagues across the aisle Thursday of trying to “inflame” the abortion issue. He said travel law advocates should ask, “Does the child in the womb have the right to travel in the future?”
Only two Republican senators, Senators Lisa Murkowski and Senator Susan Collins, have supported abortion rights, but they do not support the Democrats’ proposal, calling it too broad in scope. They have introduced alternative legislation that would prohibit states from placing an “undue burden” on a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion prior to fetal viability, among other provisions.
Asked Thursday whether Democrats should work with the two senators, Pelosi responded: “We’re not going to negotiate on a woman’s right to choose.”
Since the court’s ruling last month, some activists have accused President Joe Biden and other top Democrats of not responding strongly enough to the decision. Biden, who denounced the court’s ruling as “extreme,” last week issued an executive order aimed at avoiding some potential penalties that women seeking an abortion may face. His administration has also warned medical providers that they must offer abortions if the mother’s life is at risk.
Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee has already launched a digital ad campaign to energize voters on the issue, warning that the Republicans’ ultimate goal is to ban abortion nationwide.
“We have to elect a couple more Democratic senators so we can get around the filibuster and we can pass legislation that really affects a woman’s right to choose,” she said. “There are no half measures.”
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