Hoping to appeal to female voters, Senate Democrats pushed a bill Tuesday to prevent states from placing restrictions on abortion that do not apply to other medical procedures.
Democrats say the bill would prevent states from singling out abortions and protect women's reproductive rights. The Women's Health Protection Act comes in response to the recent push in some states to impose new limits on the practice. These restrictions include requiring that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, curtailing training for abortion services and limiting the remote prescription of drugs to end a pregnancy without a doctor's visit.
With no Republican support, the bill has little chance of passing the House and critics dismissed the measure as a political tactic aimed at the midterm election.
“This bill is a weak political ploy,” said Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). “It’s unfortunate that the [Senate] majority is using this issue to appear compassionate and concerned about women’s rights when, in reality, the bill disregards popular and common sense laws enacted by various states aimed at protecting women and children across the country.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that the Women’s Health Protection Act was a response to an “avalanche of measures that purportedly protect women’s healthcare but in reality restrict reproductive rights.”
Since 2011, states have passed more than 200 laws that limit access to abortion, according to Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, a Washington-based legal advocacy group. Critics of the state measures say these limitations do not apply to other medical procedures and are not supported by scientific evidence.
Mississippi also passed a law requiring local hospital admitting privileges. Willie Parker, a doctor providing abortions in Mississippi, said the law threatened to "shut down the one remaining abortion clinic in the state, effectively denying women access to coverage." When Parker applied for hospital admitting privileges, he was denied, he said.
Republican lawmakers said the Democrat-backed bill was overreaching and interfered with state rights.
"I don't recall Congress ever passing a law that prohibited states from enacting certain categories of laws simply because Congress says so," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah). "I can't imagine why any state legislature would support this no matter their position on abortion."