More than one hundred advocates descended on Capitol Hill to boost support for the Women’s Health Protection Act and had great results.
At the abortion clinic in Colorado where Klaira works, it is not at all uncommon to see out-of-state patients. Some come from as far away as North Dakota and Texas, where restrictions have shut down local clinics and imposed burdensome obstacles such as waiting periods, admitting privilege requirements, and ultrasounds.
“Just a few weeks ago we had a patient that flew to Denver from Texas, for just 5 hours! Enough time to get her abortion and go back home,” Klaira recounts. “With the time that it would take for her to go through the process of getting an abortion in her state, it was easier for her to fly to Denver and rent a car to get her abortion at our clinic.” As Klaira points out, this woman was fortunate to be able to make such a trip. For women with fewer resources or living in more rural areas, the barriers to abortion services are more than an inconvenience: they are deal breakers.
This story of women struggling to obtain access to safe, legal abortion care—despite their constitutional rights to such services—has become alarmingly familiar. That’s why last week more than a hundred women’s health advocates headed to Capitol Hill to show Congress we’ve had enough.
The Women’s Health Protection Act, introduced in November 2013 by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), aims to put a stop to the current assault on women’s health by making unlawful state laws that restrict access to abortion services. On June 25th and 26th, the Center for Reproductive Rights—along with a powerful coalition of advocates, supporters, and care providers—participated in an advocacy day promoting this piece of legislation. Delegates met with legislators to increase awareness and support for the historic act.
“Our goals for the advocacy day were to bring multiple voices to the Hill—the voices of providers, clinic operators, state advocates, and other leaders all advocating together. And it was a smashing success,” says Amy Friedrich-Karnik, Federal Policy Advisor at the Center. “Members of Congress we’re pledging their support in meetings throughout the day and the advocates were empowered and energized to be together and telling their stories to elected officials.” Before the advocacy day, the act had 150 co-sponsors. After meeting with members, we added seven additional names to the list, with even more promising their support.
Over the last few years, the Center has mounted a vigorous battle in courts throughout the country to challenge state laws that infringe on rights guaranteed by Roe v. Wade. With anti-choice legislators devising more and more ways to subvert Roe by placing financial, emotional, and logistical impositions on women seeking abortion care, that fight has become progressively more challenging. The Women’s Health Protection Act seeks to make our uphill battle to protect a woman’s access to safe reproductive care more successful.
By making unlawful state laws that limit women’s access to abortion services, the proposed act affirms that our constitutional rights should not vary by state and establishes jurisdiction for enforcement of these rights through the Department of Justice and private rights of action. Many of the proponents of these restrictions claim that these laws protect women’s health, but in fact offer no medical benefits. The act makes it illegal to pass laws that impose more restrictions on abortion services than on other comparable medical procedures, seeking to reclaim women’s health and reproductive autonomy by removing politicians from the doctor’s exam room.
In anticipation of this week’s event, the Center ran a contest asking supporters to share personal perspectives on the importance of the Women’s Health Protection Act. From hundreds of submissions, we selected five winners. Those five women–including Klaira—joined us this week on the Hill to tell their stories to members of Congress. One of the other contest winners, Jillian, a medical student from Maine, expresses her commitment to the Act in simple, measured terms that highlight the stakes we all share in its passage. “The Women’s Health Protection Act is a groundbreaking step in establishing an environment in which it is safe for clinicians to provide comprehensive services to women throughout the nation,” she says. “Without a safe environment, clinicians cannot provide adequate abortion care. And without providers, women do not have choice. Without choice, we cannot have autonomy. And without autonomy, we cannot have equality.”