With women everywhere concerned after Texas and other conservative states continue unwinding the reproductive protections American women have relied on since Roe v. Wade became law in 1973, today Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives passed a measure aimed at allaying some of their fears. The Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA) seeks to protect equal access to abortion for all women, regardless of state restrictions put in place by local officials.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi brought the measure to the floor three weeks after the Supreme Court upheld the new Texas abortion law banning abortions after cardiac activity is detected in an embryo, which typically happens after six weeks. The Texas “Heartbeat Act” also allows private citizens to sue anyone who “aids and abets” an abortion after those first six weeks of pregnancy.
The WHPA was first introduced by Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) in 2013 after the nation saw a two year legislative onslaught against abortion rights, which resulted in more state abortion restrictions being enacted between 2011 and 2013 than in the entire previous decade. But those restrictions pale in comparison to the new Texas law.
In the wake of the Heartbeat Act’s passage, Chu says the Lone Star State’s new abortion restrictions are “down-right chilling,” in part because it incentivizes “vigilantes” to harass women seeking abortions and even people coming to their aid. The Texas-sized backdrop of today’s House vote made advocates even more determined to enshrine the measure in the nation’s statutes.
The WHPA will create a statutory right for health care workers to provide abortion care and for patients to receive abortion care free from restrictions like mandatory waiting periods, counseling, state-required ultrasounds, and two-trip requirements, all of which disproportionately affect lower-income women who can’t as easily travel to get access to care.
The makeup of this 117th Congress is itself historic for the WHPA. It’s the first majority pro-choice Congress the measure has seen, and it’s garnered more co-sponsors than ever before. Supporters say that’s because the American people sent them here to protect women from these local efforts to restrict access to abortions.
“We’ve seen states introduce over 500 restrictions since 2011 alone, with 90 abortion restrictions passed just since the start of this year,” Chu said. “It’s clear that we need one unified federal response to all of these attacks.”
The bill is especially important in the face of a coming “cascade” of restrictive abortion laws, Chu contends, such as the upcoming Supreme Court review of a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks.
It is unlikely the measure can overcome a GOP-led filibuster in the Senate, because it would need the backing of every Democrat and 10 Republicans.
“We never do what we do out of some thought about what might happen in the Senate,” Co-Chair of the Pro-Choice Caucus Diana Degette (D-CO) responded when asked about concerns over the bill making it past the Senate.
Still, with women’s rights now front and center in American politics, both parties are gearing up for the 2022 midterms where social issues promise to be central. And Democrats are hoping votes like this, even if they die in the Senate, remind voters of how perilous their hold on power truly is in a Capitol often controlled by the filibuster-wielding minority party.