A Potential Federal Law on Abortion Divides Witnesses Before Congress
WASHINGTON — Abortion supporters and detractors made impassioned pleas before a congressional committee Wednesday while invoking constitutional rights or Biblical teachings.
The House Judiciary Committee is considering one of several proposals in Congress on whether to enact a federal law to guarantee women’s rights to abortion.
Abortion rights advocates in Congress are trying to preempt a likely Supreme Court ruling next month that would outlaw a federal right to abortion. A draft copy of the ruling that was leaked to the media would turn abortion rights over to each state legislature to decide.
Twenty-three state legislatures have said they would place at least some restrictions on abortion. Thirteen want to ban all abortions.
“The consequences will be devastating,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
The Supreme Court appears to be close to reversing the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that said abortion is a matter of discretion for each woman protected as a matter of Fourth Amendment privacy rights.
Nadler said a reversal would fall heavily on rural and low-income women who lack resources to travel great distances for abortions in other states.
If the Supreme Court bans federal abortion rights, “Millions of Americans will lose their fundamental constitutional right overnight,” Nadler said. “We cannot go backwards.”
Abortion rights groups are predicting a “summer of rage” if the draft copy of the Supreme Court ruling in a Mississippi case is approved by a majority of the nine justices. At least five of them have expressed a willingness to ban abortion rights.
As a result, Nadler and other Democratic lawmakers say they must pass a law quickly.
“Congress must act to ensure that every woman … maintains a constitutional right to abortion,” he said.
Abortion opponents on the Judiciary Committee discussed the violence abortion inflicts on fetuses, many of which are close to fully formed in the womb with the ability to think and feel pain. They mentioned how abortions tear the limbs off fetuses and can pull the brains from their skulls while they have no ability to defend themselves.
The Roe v. Wade decision has led to about 63 million abortions in the United States since 1973, they said.
The Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case that created the latest controversy resulted from a 2018 Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit struck down the law. Mississippi appealed to the Supreme Court.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said Mississippi lawmakers who passed the law “understand that life is precious and it should be protected.”
He added that he hoped the draft Supreme Court decision wins final approval by the justices.
“It’s a win for logic, it’s a win for the Constitution and most importantly it’s a win for the sanctity of human life,” Jordan said.
One bill that would guarantee a federal right to abortion, called the Women’s Health Protection Act, failed to win approval last week in the Senate by a 51-49 margin. It would have invalidated more than 500 state laws nationwide.
Democrats said they would try again. Their sympathizers, such as Planned Parenthood Action Fund, pledged to mobilize voters to win more support in Congress.
Abortion rights witnesses at the House hearing Wednesday said some revised form of the law still needs to be enacted to protect women’s mental and physical health, as well as their rights to reproductive choice.
“I cannot emphasize enough, abortion is essential health care,” said Yashica Robinson, an Alabama doctor who was speaking as a representative of the advocacy organization Physicians for Reproductive Health.
Widespread state restrictions on abortion would create hardships on many women, she said.
“Access to care should not look different because of your ZIP code,” Robinson said.
Her opinions met strong opposition from Catherine Glenn Foster, president of the anti-abortion group Americans United for Life.
“The truth is abortion is always damaging and deadly,” Foster said.
She added, “To speak for the violence of abortion is to speak for injustice.”
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