WASHINGTON – The Senate Judiciary Committee returned to an age-old issue that shows no indication of going away last week, considering legislation prohibiting states from implementing laws intended to hinder a woman’s access to an abortion.
The Women’s Health Protection Act, sponsored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), aims to prohibit restrictions on what supporters characterize as a constitutionally protected practice “that are more burdensome than those imposed on medically comparable procedures.”
The bill, which stands little chance of making it through the Republican-controlled House, seeks to overturn state-imposed mandatory waiting periods, mandatory ultrasounds and mandatory counseling before a woman can obtain an abortion. It further prohibits states from establishing fetus viability measures used to stop a woman from undergoing the procedure after a certain number of weeks.
Baldwin told the committee Americans expect high-quality healthcare but women are seeing their access to abortion, guaranteed under a landmark 1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, “come under attack.”
“Over the last 40 years, politicians across the country have been increasingly chipping away at the constitutional rights guaranteed under Roe v. Wade, which affirmed that women have the right to make their own, personal healthcare decisions and to have access to safe and legal reproductive care,” Baldwin said.
Many states, Baldwin said, “have been trying to turn back the clock on women’s access to quality care.” Over the last three years, states have enacted 205 provisions that restrict women’s access to safe abortion services, she said, and this year 13 states have adopted 21 new limits to access.
Last year in her home state of Wisconsin, Baldwin said, the legislature passed and the governor signed a bill requiring a woman seeking an abortion, who already had to make two separate trips to a clinic, to undergo an ultrasound 24 hours before the procedure. The law also forced healthcare professionals to carry admitting privileges at a local hospital.
“If it was not for a federal judge temporarily blocking this provision, two of Wisconsin’s four abortion clinics would have been forced to shut their doors and others would have been forced to reduce services, leaving many Wisconsin women out in the cold,” Baldwin said.
Congress is compelled to act, Baldwin said, “to guarantee that American women will continue to have the freedom to make their own health care decisions and to have access to essential, quality women’s healthcare services.”
Abortion has remained one of the nation’s hot-button issues for more than 40 years, pre-dating Roe v. Wade. Despite occasional shifts in public opinion, popular opinion over the issue has actually changed very little. A CNN/ORC poll, conducted Jan. 31-Feb. 2, found that 27 percent of those responding said abortion should always be legal, 51 percent said it should be legal sometimes and 20 percent asserted it should never be legal. Only one percent had no opinion on the issue.
Baldwin’s proposal drew immediate objections from committee Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who called it “extreme legislation.”
“It is legislation designed to eliminate reasonable restrictions on abortion that states across this country have put in place,” Cruz said. “It is legislation designed to force a radical view from Democrats in the Senate, that abortion should be universally available, common, without limit and paid for by the taxpayer. That is an extreme and radical view.”