Senate Judiciary Committee Holds Hearing To Restrict Women’s Access to Safe, Legal Abortion

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Hearing comes less than two weeks after Supreme Court hears challenge to Texas’ clinic shutdown law, on the heels of years of coordinated attacks on safe, legal abortion
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(PRESS RELEASE)—Rather than fulfilling their constitutional duty to help fill the 25 current judicial vacancies in the federal court system currently in their charge, the Senate Judiciary Committee today instead held a hearing focusing on further restricting women’s constitutional right to access to safe and legal health care services.

Today the committee considered S. 1553—a measure introduced by Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) in June 2015 that bans abortion in the United States at 20 weeks of pregnancy.  The bill would also create a 48-hour mandatory delay for rape survivors seeking abortions after 20 weeks, requiring adult patients to obtain medical care or counseling from a state-licensed counselor or victims’ rights advocate for their assault at least two days prior to receiving abortion services. For minors who have become pregnant after rape or incest, they would be required to report the crime to law enforcement or child protective services. 

While the bill contains an extremely narrow exception for women facing life-threatening conditions, it fails to make an exception for any other threats to the health of the woman—disregarding women’s lives and decades of previous U.S Supreme Court rulings. 

The Senate considered an identical measure in September 2015, but pro-choice Senators blocked its advancement. 

Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights: 

“Rather than fulfill their constitutional obligation to help fill federal judicial vacancies, the Senate Judiciary Committee used precious time to take up yet another political attack on women’s constitutional right to abortion.

“Far too many women in this country are facing insurmountable barriers to reproductive health care. This clearly unconstitutional measure would only deepen this health care crisis by criminalizing physicians and eliminate more of women’s safe and legal options to end a pregnancy.

“It’s about time Congress and leaders across the country to work toward expanding health care options for women—not depriving them of their rights.”

The committee also considered a second measure identical to a bill which passed the House in June 2015 and criminalizes physicians for providing constitutionally protected health services by amending the Born Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002.  The measure not only adds additional criminal penalties to the 2002 measure, but also mandates vague new requirements on how physicians must care for their patients—thereby further interfering in the doctor-patient relationship.

Today’s hearing comes less than two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court considered Texas’ clinic shutdown law—a measure that threatens to leave fewer than ten abortion clinics in the entire state—and on the heels of years of unrelenting attacks on women’s access to safe and legal abortion.  All three measures—both Congressional bills and the Texas law—target health care providers with unnecessary red tape or even criminal penalties as a way to choke off women’s access to safe and legal abortion. 

The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held—first in Roe v. Wade and again most recently in Planned Parenthood v. Casey—that women have a constitutional right to decide whether to end or continue a pregnancy and states cannot ban abortion prior to viability.  When these bans are challenged in court, they do not pass constitutional muster. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court refused to review North Dakota’s ban on abortion as early as 6 weeks of pregnancy and Arkansas’ ban on abortion at 12 weeks of pregnancy, in 2014, the nation’s highest court refused to review Arizona’s ban on abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy.

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