Photo of a Texas pro-choice protester by Mirsasha (Creative Commons)
For the past decade, individual states have waged all out war on reproductive rights. Every week it seems like there’s a new abortion restrictions bill that progressive advocates desperately scramble to fight. But last week, for the first time in ten years, Democrats went on the offensive on abortion rights: a coalition of Senators and Representatives introduced the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA), the first federal bill in a decade that would expand abortion rights.
The WHPA bill aims to end the gradual erosion of abortion rights that has been going on state-by-state across the US. The wave of targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws is familiar to anyone who reads the news. These laws chip away at abortion access by requiring specific practices—like, in Texas recently, requiring that abortion clinics have admitting privileges at hospitals—that their proponents say are necessary to protect women’s health. But, as doctors point out, the idea that abortion clinics are unsafe in the United States is based on political rhetoric, not data. The WHPA would force states to rely on science when writing abortion legislation, requiring the policies “find a meaningful connection with the regulations and women’s health.”
Senatory Blumenthal wrote, “Our bill would stop states from subjecting reproductive health care providers to burdensome requirements that are not applied to medical professionals providing similar services. Laws would no longer be used to interfere with women's personal, private decision making—nor would they limit access to safe and legal medical care. Our bill will nullify dangerous regulations that stifle access to abortion care and endanger women.”
The bill’s introduction points out the harmful impacts of TRAP laws:
“[These laws] harm women’s health by reducing access not only to abortion services but also to the other essential health care services offered by the providers targeted by the restrictions, including contraceptive services, which reduce unintended pregnancies and thus abortions, and screenings for cervical cancer and sexually transmitted infections. These harms fall especially heavily on low-income women, women of color, and women living in rural and other medically underserved areas.”
Of course, even if the bill did get passed in the Senate it has very little chance of passing the Republican-controlled House. Sigh.
In addition to that exciting bill, last week the coalition All* Above All visited Washington, DC to raise awareness of their campaign to repeal laws that limit federal funding for abortion like the Hyde Amendment. Currently people who receive healthcare coverage from the federal government cannot get coverage for abortion except in case of rape, incest, and when the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother. That exclusion affects millions of people: Medicaid recipients, federal prison inmates, immigrant women in detention centers, military veterans, and Native American women. Not having Medicaid cover abortion results in one in four low-income woman carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term.
DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton discussing abortion access. Images courtesy All* Above All.
"Safe abortion care has become out of reach for too many women because of the unnecessary and harmful restrictions that have been put in place,” says Kate Stewart, Executive Vice President for Public Affairs at Advocates for Youth, a steering committee of member of All* Above All. “Moving forward, we need to be investing in proactive measures that will address these restrictions and insure that all women: young women, low income women, and women of color have access to safe, legal, affordable abortion care.”
Repealing the Hyde Amendment can seem insurmountable in the current political climate, but affordable abortion access is an incredibly important fight that we can’t give up on. Jessica Valenti wrote in The Nation, “Too many of us—especially those with access and power to the mainstream—have become convinced that public funding for abortions will never happen. But Hyde is only a given if we refuse to take it on.”
But, of course, the momentum behind these two bills doesn’t mean the political tide against abortion rights has reversed entirely. The same week as Democrats put forward the Women’s Health Protection Act, Senator Lindsay Graham introduced a 20-week abortion ban bill into the House. The bill rests on the exact kind of incorrect medical assumption that the Senate Democrats want to stop being the basis of legislation: that fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks, which has no medical basis and is a politically motivated number.
Correction: Kate Stewart's job title was incorrectly stated in the original version of this article.