In an historic step forward for abortion rights and access, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA) in the first ever congressional vote on proactive, standalone legislation to protect abortion rights. The bill, passed by a 218-211 vote, safeguards abortion access from state-level bans and restrictions.
“The House has stepped in where the courts have failed us,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “This historic vote is the first time legislation has advanced in Congress to establish a right to abortion. Now the Senate must act or the current crisis on abortion access in Texas could reverberate across large swaths of the nation.”
WHPA protects abortion access by creating a statutory right for health care providers to provide, and a corresponding right for their patients to receive, abortion care—free from restrictions and bans.
Highlights from the WHPA debate:
The vote on WHPA came one day after a coalition of Texas abortion providers—represented by the Center and its partners—again asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in a case challenging Texas’s extreme ban on abortion, known as S.B. 8, that has ended almost all abortion access in the state. The providers, led by Whole Woman’s Health, are asking the Court to expedite the case. The Texas law prohibits abortion care after about six weeks of pregnancy and incentivizes private individuals to sue anyone who provides an abortion or helps someone obtain one after the law’s limit.
“At a time when states like Texas have heightened attacks on reproductive justice, it is imperative that the federal government steps in to defend abortion care across our nation. The Women’s Health Protection Act is a crucial step toward making abortion access a reality,” said Kimberly Inez McGuire, Executive Director of URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity in a statement. “For too long, abortion bans of all kinds have kept essential care out of reach, especially for young, low-income, and BIPOC folks. Young people in the South and Midwest are demanding solidarity and action to defend abortion and uplift our communities. Along with ending abortion coverage bans and ensuring access for young people who need abortion, passing WHPA gets us closer to a day when our decisions are truly our own.”
On the day of the historic vote, members of Congress spoke in favor of WHPA.
- “Every woman everywhere has the constitutional right to basic reproductive health care. No matter what state you live in, constitutional rights are not meted out geographically, they are for the country.” — Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)
- “This bill respects our right and the freedom to make our own choices about our bodies and it leaves those decisions up to us and our doctors…It’s time to put a stop to these attacks once and for all. With today’s historic vote we are ensuring that access to abortion care is a right from Texas to California.” — Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA)
- “Make no mistake, people deserve the freedom to control their own bodies, lives, and futures. We must protect the right to access abortion to ensure that it is available and affordable.” — Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA)
- “What’s at stake in this fight is not some frivolous benefit, it’s the fundamental right of women across the country to decide.” — Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO)
- “Abortion is health care…Women can make the decision to have a child or not have a child. It is about bodily autonomy.” — Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)
- “America is the land of the free and the home of the brave, but we cannot truly be a free country unless women have the freedom to make their own health care decisions.” — Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY)
- “Many minority, LGBTQ and low-income women can’t afford to travel and access quality health care. Let’s pass the Women’s Health Protection Act so we can protect women’s freedom in every state.” — Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-NM)
- “This legislation simply ensures that no matter where they live, patients can access abortion services and health care providers can provide this care without medically unnecessary and burdensome restrictions.” — Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ)
About the Women’s Health Protection Act
The Women’s Health Protection Act creates a new legal protection for the right to provide and access abortion care free from medically unnecessary restrictions and bans on abortion, including forced waiting periods, biased counseling, and pre-viability bans like the one in Texas.
A nationally representative poll, conducted by Hart Research in January, found that 61% of voters support passage of a national law that would protect the constitutional right to access abortion by creating a nationwide safeguard against bans and medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion. The Women’s Health Protection Act would accomplish that.
The Women’s Health Protection Act was introduced in June by lead sponsors Representatives Judy Chu (D-CA), Lois Frankel (D-FL), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Veronica Escobar (D-TX) and Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). The bill has 47 co-sponsors in the in the Senate.
On September 20, the Executive Office of the President issued a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) announcing that the Biden-Harris Administration “strongly supports” passage of the Women’s Health Protection Act. The White House wrote, “In the wake of Texas’ unprecedented attack, it has never been more important to codify this constitutional right and to strengthen health care access for all women, regardless of where they live.”
The Center is part of a broad coalition of more than 100 organizations spearheading the effort to build support for the Women’s Health Protection Act. If enacted, WHPA would protect the right to access abortion care in every state, even if Roe v. Wade were weakened or overturned.