By Nancy Northup
Politicians in the U.S. House of Representatives have already made it clear that—once again—one of their top priorities for the new year will be to continue their relentless assault on women’s health and rights.
In one of its first acts of 2014, the House Judiciary Committee considered H.R. 7, the so-called “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” the true purpose of which is to deny insurance coverage of abortion care to women across the United States — and the effect of which would be felt disproportionately by women hit hardest by difficult economic circumstances.
This bill would permanently ban abortion coverage for millions of women, including federal employees, women enrolled in Medicaid, military servicewomen, Peace Corps volunteers and many others who depend on health care and insurance coverage through the federal government.
I wish I could say this comes as some surprise. Sadly, it has become a shameful ritual that repeats itself every time Congress and state legislatures across the U.S. come back into session each year.
At the federal level, politicians hostile to women’s reproductive health care have been using the congressional purse strings to inflict pain like this for decades. And in recent years, they’ve gone beyond attacks on insurance coverage to strike at the provision of reproductive health care itself.
While they haven’t quite matched the fury of their counterparts in the state legislatures — who considered a breathtaking 250 pieces of anti-choice legislation in nearly every state last year — the 113th Congress has introduced more than 50 bills aimed at choking off women’s access to safe, legal, high-quality reproductive health care.
Last summer, for example, the House approved a cruel and patently unconstitutional ban on all abortions in the U.S. after 20 weeks of pregnancy. It’s a measure that would strip women of their ability to make complicated, personal, and often very difficult medical decisions at a time when they are receiving critical test results on the health of their pregnancy.
It’s also a measure that has been rejected by every single court that has considered it — including now the nation’s highest.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court left in place the Ninth Circuit’s sound decision to permanently strike Arizona’s 20-week ban, ensuring that no Arizona woman’s life or health will be harmed by that callous law.
And when a similar measure was put to voters in Albuquerque, New Mexico last November, it was defeated 55 percent to 45 percent.
Despite these resounding rejections by courts and voters alike, women’s health care continues to face deadly serious threats from those who seek to make it illegal or impossible to obtain, indifferent to the devastating consequences that women will suffer as a result.
Forty-one years after Roe v. Wade recognized women’s constitutional right to decide for themselves whether to continue or end a pregnancy, free from the intrusion of politicians who presume to know better what’s right for them and their families, the fact is that Roe’s promise of safe and legal abortion care for all women in the U.S. remains an empty promise for millions of women in this country.
And many members of Congress are intent on making things worse. But not all.
More than 120 members who value the health, lives and rights of women in the U.S. — including 34 senators and 95 representatives—aren’t just fighting back against these harmful measures advanced by their colleagues. They’ve stepped up with some legislation of their own.
Last fall saw the historic introduction of the federal Women’s Health Protection Act (S 1696/HR 3471), a bill designed to put an end to many of the laws that block women from realizing their constitutional right to an abortion.
The Women’s Health Protection Act is a shot across the bow in a political fight that is far too often one-sided. It would bar politicians on Capitol Hill and in statehouses across the country from trampling on women’s health, rights and personal decision making through laws that have nothing to do with advancing health or safety and everything to do with closing abortion clinics.
Its introduction coincided with a massive effort to advocate to ensure that every woman can obtain and afford the full range of reproductive health care services essential to her well-being, including abortion services when she needs it.
People are fed up. They’re speaking out. And — for the first time in a long time — there are signs that a critical mass of our representatives in Congress is listening.
This is a vital opportunity to reclaim the rights that Roe recognized and the protections it established more than four decades ago, and to boldly defend the health and safety of all women across the U.S., no matter where they happen to live or how much money they happen to make.
It’s an opportunity to take decisive action, to draw the line against attacks on women’s rights and health, to take a gigantic step away from the dark days of the past and into a dramatically brighter future for all American women.
And it’s an opportunity we must seize. Because we are one nation, governed by one constitution, whose rights and protections are supposed to be guaranteed equally to all of us.
And because it’s not just Roe that’s at risk. It’s the health, safety, lives and futures of millions of women around the country.
Nancy Northup is the president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Read this op-ed posted on Talking Points Memo.