In what will likely turn out to be a symbolic gesture, Democrats in the U.S. House passed legislation Friday putting in statute a health care professional’s right to provide, and a woman’s right to receive, an abortion. The move comes in response to a highly restrictive Texas abortion law that the Supreme Court allowed to take effect this month.
H.R. 3755, the Women’s Health Protection Act, passed 218-211, but may not even be brought up for a vote in the Senate where it would face an extremely uphill battle due to lack of Republican support.
Still, that did not lessen the enthusiasm or determination of its supporters.
"This is about freedom," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), "about freedom of women to have choice about the size and timing of their families."
Pelosi and the Democrats said the Texas law is denying women that freedom, forcing abortion seekers to travel out of state, sometimes thousands of miles. Clinics in Tulsa and Oklahoma City have reportedly seen a more than 600 percent increase in Texas patients since the law took effect.
Pro-choice advocates have been pushing for years to codify Roe v. Wade by putting the right to obtain an abortion into statute. Now, with the conservative court set to hear a challenge to a Mississippi abortion law in December, there is concern that addressing abortion statutorily can no longer wait.
"Maybe the most important thing this bill will do," said Rep, Dana Degette (D-CO), "is it will end our reliance on the courts."
As unlikely as it is that the bill could become law, pro-life lawmakers voiced their objections to it all week.
"The legislation overrides past and future pro-life laws, both at the federal and the state level," said Oklahoma's Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-OK5) at a news conference on Tuesday.
Rep. Bice is okay with what Texas, Oklahoma and other states are doing, she says, to protect life. She said the Women's Health Protection Act is more about taking life than it is about protecting health.
"If signed into law," Bice stated, "it would create a national standard to allow abortion for any reason at any stage of pregnancy, up to birth."
What the bill actually says is that a viable fetus can be aborted "when, in the good-faith medical judgment of the treating health care provider, continuation of the pregnancy would pose a risk to the pregnant patient’s life or health."
Also this week, a group of abortion advocates petitioned the Supreme Court to again take up the Texas law, which they insist is unconstitutional.