The House passed a broad pro-choice bill last week that would sweep away state restrictions on abortion, a speedy but largely symbolic vote in reaction to a wave of pro-life measures in Texas and other red states making their way to the Supreme Court.
The House voted 218-211 on Friday to approve the Women’s Health Protection Act, rushing the bill onto the floor without a committee hearing after the Supreme Court denied Sept. 1 a request to block a newly passed Texas law barring most abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy.
“Today, the House of Representatives took a crucial step to safeguard the right to access abortion care in the United States,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, New York Democrat, after the vote. “Accessing abortion has been recognized as a constitutional right for nearly half a century, yet this right is now under sustained attack by anti-choice state legislatures and a hostile Supreme Court.”
The only Democrat to oppose H.R 3755 was Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas. All Republicans voted against the measure.
While the bill is unlikely to reach the Senate floor, the debate provided a platform for Democrats to sound the alarm ahead of the 2022 election on the surge of challenges to Roe v. Wade, led by Mississippi’s 15-week ban on abortion scheduled for oral argument before the high court in December.
Democrats also ripped the Texas law, known as SB 8, which allows private citizens to bring civil lawsuits against health care providers who perform abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, or about six to eight weeks gestation, with an exception for medical emergencies.
“Today, nearly 90% of counties in this country no longer have a single abortion provider. Enough is enough,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, Colorado Democrat. “If the [Supreme Court] justices over in that building there won’t act, the U.S. House of Representatives will act.”
House Democrats argued that the bill was needed to codify the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe legalizing abortion nationwide, while Republicans blasted the measure, calling it the “Abortion on Demand Act.”
“This bill is far outside the American mainstream and goes far beyond Roe v. Wade,” said Rep. Chris Smith, New Jersey Republican. “This bill constitutes an existential threat to unborn children and to the value of life itself.”
He said the bill would “nullify every modest pro-life restriction ever enacted by the states,” including laws requiring parental consent for minors, waiting periods and ultrasounds, as well as “pain-capable” laws barring most abortions after 20 weeks and bans on certain procedures such as partial-birth.
“The majority has chosen once again to lie to the American people about what this bill is about. This bill has nothing to do with women’s health. This bill is about infanticide,” said Rep. Lisa McClain, Michigan Republican. “To my Democratic colleagues, if you’re supportive of infanticide, just say it.”
Rep. Lori Trahan, Massachusetts Democrat, countered that “Roe is on the verge of elimination, and millions of women are rightly terrified for what that means for their bodily autonomy.”
People like me don’t make it to Congress. In fact, I shouldn’t even be breathing. My mother, against all odds, chose life. Against the pressure of her own family, she had me.— Congresswoman Kat Cammack (@RepKatCammack) September 24, 2021
I will always stand for life. pic.twitter.com/WuYsaUGzPX
The debate was often intensely personal. At least two Democratic women spoke about having abortions, while Rep. Beth Van Duyne, Texas Republican, discussed her miscarriage and held a life-sized doll of a baby at the time of birth.
Rep. Sylvia Garcia, Texas Democrat, brandished a wire clothes hanger, declaring that “we cannot go back to the dark ages of using wire hangers for self-help.”
House Democrats also urged the Senate to pass the measure, which is unlikely, given the 50-50 partisan split and the anticipated opposition of pro-life Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania.
A potential swing vote, Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, has said she opposes the bill as written.
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