The House of Representatives on Friday approved legislation that would protect abortion access nationwide, the first action by Democrats in Congress to respond to the supreme court decision in late June overturning Roe v Wade.
The vote was largely symbolic – the bills stand all but no chance of overcoming Republican opposition in the evenly-divided Senate, where 60 votes are needed to move legislation forward.
But the action, the first in the post-Roe era, begins what Democrats promise will be an all-out, potentially years-long, political campaign to restore abortion rights in all 50 states.
Already, Republican-led legislatures in states across wide swaths of the south and midwest are moving quickly to enact restrictions or bans on abortion that were once unlawful under the precedent set by the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade ruling by the supreme court, while Democratic-led states have acted to expand access and protections for women seeking the procedure.
The June ruling was expected to lead to bans in nearly half of US states, though lawsuits and legislative delays vary when they would take effect.
US president Joe Biden and party leaders are under mounting pressure from their supporters, who are furious over the court’s decision to invalidate a half-century constitutional right to abortion and frustrated that their party leaders appeared to lack a cogent plan of action.
Before the vote, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and a coalition of Democratic women, all wearing green, a color that has come to symbolize abortion rights, stood on the steps of the Capitol chanting: “We are not going back.”
During her remarks on the floor, Pelosi warned that Republicans would seek a “barbaric” national ban on abortion if they win control of the chamber.
Many Democrats highlighted the case of a 10-year-old Ohio girl who was raped and then had to cross state lines into Indiana in order to get an abortion because of tighter restrictions in her own state, as an example of the tragic consequences of the supreme court’s ruling. Many conservatives cast doubt on the veracity of the story, which was confirmed when a man was arraigned in the rape.
House Democrats approved two measures on Friday. One would protect the right to travel across state lines for abortion services, a new flashpoint in the debate as anti-abortion groups push legislation that would block women from traveling out-of-state. That passed the House by 223 votes to 205 no votes.
It would also shield healthcare providers who perform abortions on out-of-state patients from potential legal repercussions.
The other bill, a version of which already passed the House last year, would enshrine abortion rights into federal law, effectively overturning a flurry of state restrictions and bans and giving a national legislative underpinning to a federal right that had been dictated by the court.
The measure would guarantee abortion access until fetal viability, the point at which a human fetus is widely deemed able to survive outside of the uterus, roughly considered to be around 24 weeks, or after that point if the mother’s health or life are at risk. It passed by 219 yes votes to 210 no votes.
It would also prohibit what its authors say are medically unnecessary restrictions in states designed to restrict abortion access under the guise of protecting women’s health.
“You should not have more rights if you get pregnant in California than if you get pregnant in Texas,” said Congresswoman Judy Chu, a Democrat from California and the author of the Women’s Health Protection Act.
Friday’s action was also an attempt to put Republicans on the record on an issue Democrats believe will galvanize their ranks in November’s mid-term elections.
Only a narrow sliver of Americans believe abortion should be banned, and consistent majorities oppose the supreme court’s decision to overturn Roe.
Republicans uniformly opposed the bills.
A number of Republican lawmakers have embraced a nationwide ban on abortion, promising a flurry of new federal restrictions if they win control of Congress in the midterm elections.
There are two Republican senators in the House who support abortion rights, Lisa Mrukowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine. They do not support the House’s bill codifying Roe, saying it goes further than the supreme court precedent. They have introduced alternative legislation, but even so, it is unlikely to persuade enough Republican senators to overcome the 60-vote threshold.
Asked whether Democrats should work with these Republican senators on a compromise plan, Pelosi told reporters: “We’re not going to negotiate a woman’s right to choose.”
Joe Biden has faced widespread criticism from Democrats disappointed with his response to the overturning of Roe, which they viewed as belated and overly cautious. The president has since displayed a more aggressive tone on the issue and directed his administration to take additional steps to protect access.
But ultimately he said the only way to “truly” protect abortion rights was for Congress to act, and to do that voters needed to elect at least two more Democratic senators in November.
“We must ensure that the American people remember in November,” Pelosi said, “because with two more Democratic senators we will be able to eliminate the filibuster when it comes to a woman’s right to choose and to make reproductive freedom the law of the land.”
July 16, 2022 at 01:51AM Lauren Gambino, Chris Stein in Washington and Adam Gabbatt in New York