Editorial: This bill may be the only thing that guarantees women’s reproductive rights
Never has there been a more urgent time for Congress pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would ensure the right to a legal abortion nationwide — a right that is now imperiled. The Supreme Court is considering gutting or overturning Roe vs. Wade, the landmark decision that has guaranteed the right to a legal abortion for nearly half a century, at the request of the state of Mississippi, which is defending its unconstitutional 15-week abortion ban.
Multiple generations of women and girls in every state have availed themselves of these reproductive rights. No Americans should have their rights to bodily autonomy taken from them. No one should frantically have to travel the country looking for a state that allows abortion or, worse, go back to the dark days when women sought sometimes-dangerous methods to end their pregnancies or were forced to give birth to children they were unprepared to raise.
The Women’s Health Protection Act would ensure not just a person’s right to an abortion but also the authority of healthcare professionals to provide the procedure. It would outlaw onerous state restrictions on access to abortion, such as those in Mississippi. In the last decade, hundreds of unnecessary state laws designed to thwart access to abortion have proliferated in states across the county. For six months, abortion has been essentially outlawed in Texas by a diabolical law that allows vigilante lawsuits against abortion providers or anyone else who helps a woman get an abortion after six weeks of gestation — a point at which most women wouldn’t even know they were pregnant. The Supreme Court has refused to block the law so far.
The Supreme Court is hearing a case asking it to overturn Roe vs. Wade, but it should reject it and continue to protect access to abortion.
The Women’s Health Protection Act passed the House of Representatives in September. On Monday it goes to the Senate floor for a vote. It may very well fail. There are 49 senators — all Democrats or independents — on record supporting it. Among Democrats, only Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia has not said whether he will support it. But he has a long track record of antiabortion votes, including supporting a 20-week ban on two occasions. (Supreme Court rulings have made abortion legal up to the point of viability of the fetus outside the womb — at about 24 weeks of gestation.) And the bill will need 60 votes to make it filibuster-proof.
The vote, which will take place one day before the six-month anniversary of the Texas antiabortion law going into effect, will put every senator on the record.
All senators should consider whether they will stand by and do nothing while a fundamental right is taken away. Because that’s what a no vote would do. And they should not delude themselves into thinking the states — perhaps less than half — that will still allow abortion if Roe is overturned can handle the reproductive needs of the entire nation. That will still leave women in the other half of the country trying to find the time, money and child care necessary to travel hundreds of miles to an abortion clinic. Low-income women — often women of color — will be hit the hardest.
Nor should senators lull themselves into thinking they’ve done other things to protect and help women, particularly those with children. They haven’t. Republican senators have opposed paid leave as well as the expansion of child tax credits in the American Rescue Plan.
This bill is profoundly important not just to women but to all Americans who value the right to control their own bodies. The Senate should pass the law regardless of what happens to Roe vs. Wade, because it would clear numerous abortion access restrictions already passed by a number of states. But if Roe is overturned — and it is quite possible it will be — this law would be the only real protection of the civil liberties of every American capable of getting pregnant.
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