Following an unprecedented three-year wave of state legislative attacks on abortion and family planning services, a group of Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate plan to go on the offensive Wednesday with a historic bill that would make it illegal for states to chip away at women's reproductive rights.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) will introduce the Women's Health Protection Act of 2013, joined by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Reps. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), Judy Chu (D-Calif.) and Lois Frankel (D-Fla.). The bill would prohibit states from passing so-called Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws, which impose strict and cost-prohibitive building standards on abortion clinics, require women seeking abortions to have ultrasounds, and create other barriers to abortion access.
The Supreme Court decided in Roe v. Wade that states cannot block women's access to abortion before the fetus is viable outside the womb, which is estimated to occur between 22 and 24 weeks of pregnancy. But state legislators have found a number of ways to make it difficult logistically, financially and emotionally for women to have abortions before that point.
"In states like Texas and Wisconsin, legislatures are passing bills with the false pretext of protecting health when their only objective is to obstruct and curtail access to safe and legal abortions and reproductive services. These laws are largely unconstitutional, and some measure of certainty and clarity is required to preempt these regulations and laws so women are not deterred in their very personal decisions based on their own values on how they want to use their constitutional rights," Blumenthal said. "The Women’s Health Protection Act will provide a clear and certain response to these regulations and laws that impose unnecessary tests, procedures and restrictions — including requirements for physical layout in clinics — on reproductive services."
Blumenthal's bill wouldn't automatically overturn states' existing anti-abortion laws, but because federal law trumps state law, it would provide a means to challenge them in court. The bill would direct judges to consider certain factors in determining whether a restriction is legal, such as whether it interferes with a doctor's good-faith medical judgment, or whether it's likely to interfere with or delay women's access to abortion.
The last time Congress passed proactive legislation to protect abortion rights was in 1994, with the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. The bill responded to attacks on abortion clinics in the 1990s by prohibiting acts of violence against clinics or the women who visited them.
Blumenthal and his colleagues plan to introduce and discuss the bill in a press conference on Wednesday afternoon. While it has a strong chance of passing in the Democrat-controlled Senate, it faces nearly impossible odds in the House.