House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a press conference on the House of Representatives’ vote on HR 3755, the “Women’s Health Protection Act” to “Establish a Federal Right of Access to Abortion” in the Washington Capitol , USA, September 24th, 2021.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters
House Democrats passed sweeping abortion rights laws on Friday, a quick but mostly symbolic response to the Supreme Court’s refusal to block a Texas law banning most abortions.
The bill passed in 218-211 is primarily a token of solidarity as the bill, the Women’s Health Protection Act, will face stiff opposition from Republicans in the Senate and is unlikely to get through the Chamber.
Democrats believe the bill would guarantee the right to abortion through federal law and cement Roe v Wade’s ruling, the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 ruling that established a constitutional right to trial.
House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi, D-California, worked quickly to pin action against the bill after the Supreme Court earlier this month refused to block a controversial Texas law that bans abortions about six weeks before the most even notice that they are pregnant.
Texas law in particular says that doctors cannot perform abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be detected, an activity that usually begins about six weeks after pregnancy. This law came into force on September 1st.
Texas law makes no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, and it is unprecedented to represent individuals in suing anyone who conducts the process or “aids” it.
Pelosi offered comment Friday morning before the bill was passed, and condemned the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling earlier this month. The judges, who voted not to block the law, focused on procedural issues and stressed that they do not yet have to judge the constitutionality of the law.
“This is about freedom. About the freedom of women to decide the size and timing of their families, not the affairs of the people of the world [Supreme] Court or members of Congress, “said the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
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Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington and chairwoman of the Progressive Caucus, said from the House of Commons that she had performed an abortion and urged her MPs not to criminalize the process.
“One in four women in all of America has had an abortion. I am one of them,” she said before the law was passed. “Terminating my pregnancy, Mrs. Spokeswoman, was not an easy decision for me. But it was my decision. It is time to preserve this for all people.”
The law would create a legal right for care providers and patients to have abortion with no specific restrictions or requirements.
Specifically, the bill would give patients the right to have an abortion without medically unnecessary tests or procedures – generally including ultrasound examinations, counseling or mandatory waiting times. It would also discourage states from imposing in-person clinic visits prior to an abortion, often referred to as “two-trip” requirements.
The bill would discourage states from banning abortions before the fetus is viable. It would also prohibit the prohibition of abortion after fetal viability if, in the good faith of the care provider, continuation of the pregnancy would pose a threat to the life or health of the pregnant woman.
Despite its long chances in the Senate, the House-approved bill could provide fuel for Democrats in the 2022 mid-term election and be a strong talking point for voters who view the recent Supreme Court ruling as undermining rights many believed regulated by law are.
Republicans, including Louisiana Rep. Julia Letlow, protested the bill before the House vote, arguing that it went beyond the Roe decision.
In particular, members of the GOP say the law robs states of their ability to regulate abortions. They also argue that the measure would prevent states from taking action to make abortions safer and would lead to many more procedures in the late stages of pregnancy.
“As a woman, and especially as a mother of two, I feel uniquely qualified to speak about it,” said Letlow from the floor of the house.
“The legislation before us is perhaps the most extreme abortion measure Congress has ever considered,” she added. “It will undo a myriad of fetal protections that states have already put in place.”
The Senate, which is barely controlled by the Democrats, is not allowed to take up the bill, as it remains unclear whether a majority in the chamber will support it.
Two Democrats, Senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia and Senator Bob Casey from Pennsylvania, did not join the rest of their colleagues in co-sponsoring the Senate version of the bill and are expected to oppose it. Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine who has advocated abortion rights in the past, has reportedly said she will not support the law in its current form.
Even if the Democrats were to scrape together a majority in the Senate, it is almost certain that the Republicans would thwart the bill and prevent it from moving forward with less than 60 votes.
A group of abortion providers and attorneys on Thursday called on the Supreme Court to quickly review their challenge to Texas law.