Determining whether or when to have a child has a profound impact on a person’s health and life. For this reason, the Constitution protects our personal liberty and dignity to make such decisions for ourselves. But today that right is in peril.
Although we just won the case before the Supreme Court, June Medical Services v. Russo, this is a fight we shouldn’t have needed to wage at all. The Louisiana law at issue in the decision was identical to a Texas law we challenged, and which the Supreme Court struck down in 2016. Because states such as Louisiana continue to defy the Supreme Court’s abortion rulings, we have to go to court again and again and again, with no end in sight.
Relentless state-by-state attacks on abortion are only ratcheting up. Politicians have passed more than 450 state laws restricting abortion access over the past decade. Those laws are pushing abortion access out of reach. Nearly 90 percent of U.S. counties are without a single abortion provider. Six states — Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and West Virginia — are down to their last clinic. In 2019, nine states passed brazenly unconstitutional bans on abortion starting at six weeks of pregnancy — before many people know they’re pregnant. And at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, governors and officials of more than 10 states shamelessly took advantage of the crisis and tried to restrict abortion care.
This insidious campaign against abortion access hurts communities of color, young people, rural communities and people living in poverty the most. These restrictions mean that because there are fewer clinics and patients may have to travel considerable distances to reach them, a person’s ability to access abortion care often depends on where they happen to live, how much money they have and whether they can take time off work. This is just wrong. A right is not a right if you can’t exercise it.
It’s time to end this grinding, wasteful state of uncertainty. The Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA) is the answer.
WHPA takes the Supreme Court’s precedents and solidifies them into a clear federal standard for preserving the constitutional right to abortion and treating abortion for what it is: health care.
The bill creates a federal statutory right for health-care providers to deliver, and for their patients to receive, abortion care free from medically unnecessary limitations and bans. It applies only to those restrictions that single out abortion care and no other comparable medical procedure. If states wouldn’t impose waiting periods or unnecessary protocols on patients seeking colonoscopies; if they wouldn’t limit early, less invasive medical treatment to help patients get care more quickly; and if they wouldn’t require doctors to provide medically dubious counseling for patients seeking those procedures, then they won’t be able to restrict abortion care in these ways under the WHPA.
Congress has taken this kind of corrective action before when abortion rights were under threat: Thirty years ago, during a particularly heightened period of terror, when doctors and clinic workers were murdered, and clinics were being bombed, vandalized, torched and blockaded. Federal action was needed, and in 1994, Congress passed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.
Today, access to abortion services is being blocked through an avalanche of pretextual laws designed to accomplish by the pen what could not be accomplished through brute force: the closure of facilities providing essential reproductive health care to patients in large swaths of the country.
Though the bill would face likely insurmountable hurdles in the current Senate, if the House passes the first proactive federal abortion rights legislation in decades, it would give Americans an opportunity to consider an alternate reality to continue fighting for — one in which basic health care is not constantly under attack.
For nearly half a century, the Supreme Court has continuously affirmed that a woman has the right to make personal decisions about her body, her family and her life. Now Congress must act and pass WHPA to stop these whack-a-mole state attacks, and ensure that the right to abortion first recognized in Roe v. Wade is a reality for people all across the country.