Last week, Senate Republicans introduced a national abortion ban that would chisel away at the constitutional rights guaranteed under Roe v. Wade. Now, their Democratic colleagues are striking back with some abortion-related legislation of their own. On Wednesday, a group of pro-choice senators plan to introduce the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013, a measure intended to stem the barrage of state-level restrictions on reproductive rights.
Despite the fact that Roe is still technically the law of the land, state legislatures have still managed to attack abortion access from all angles. Ever since the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision gave states the power to regulate abortion to protect the “health of the mother,” anti-choice lawmakers have rushed to enact several different types of restrictions that supposedly achieve this end. Those state laws — which include forced ultrasound requirements, mandatory waiting periods, restrictions on the administration of the abortion pill, and burdensome clinic regulations — have continued to mount. According to the Guttmacher Institute, this strategy peaked in 2011, when lawmakers enacted a record-breaking 92 new abortion restrictions at the state level.
Now, led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), a group of Democratic lawmakers wants to change that. According to Roll Call, which obtained a copy of the legislation, the new bill would preempt state’s efforts to indirectly restrict abortion by requiring new laws to be medically necessary. The measure emphasizes that new abortion regulations shouldn’t decrease access to abortion services or require doctors to go against their best judgment.
While the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013 wouldn’t immediately supersede the existing state restrictions, it would set the stage for court challenges to officially overturn them.
“This assault on essential, constitutionally protected rights has gone on too long,” Blumenthal writes in an op-ed published on the Huffington Post. “We are introducing the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013 this week to end it, once and for all. Our bill would stop states from subjecting reproductive health care providers to burdensome requirements that are not applied to medical professionals providing similar services.”
It’s rare for women’s health supporters to go on the offensive. With the notable exception of California, which recently enacted several pieces of legislation to expand access to abortion, women’s health supporters are typically preoccupied with defending themselves against a steady stream of anti-choice attacks. Even in progressive states like New York, it’s proven difficult for pro-choice lawmakers to enact any proactive measures to move the ball forward on reproductive rights. Indeed, the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013 represents the first piece of national legislation in nearly a decade that is specifically intended to protect — rather than undermine — abortion rights.
Planned Parenthood is applauding the initiative. “As the nation’s leading women’s health care provider and advocate, we see firsthand the terrible impact that these restrictions have on women — cutting thousands of women off from access to safe and legal abortion, and from basic preventive health care,” the group’s president, Cecile Richards, said in a statement. “This bill would ensure that a woman’s constitutional rights don’t depend on her zip code.”