Abortion Dispute Plays Out in Congress … Again
WASHINGTON — Impassioned opinions over abortion returned to Congress Wednesday in a House hearing that renewed disputes over whether a woman’s rights should override rights of the unborn.
The hearing was supposed to assess the consequences of the Supreme Court decision last month in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturned a federal right to abortion.
It came nearly 50 years after another Supreme Court ruling in the case of Roe v. Wade allowed abortions.
As a result of the Supreme Court’s June 24 decision, “Women across America are feeling sorrow, anger and disbelief,” said Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
Her laments were met with complaints from other lawmakers about what they say is the injustice of destroying unborn life through abortion.
The Oversight and Reform Committee held its hearing during a tough week in the struggle over abortion.
The same day, the House debated two bills designed to counteract the Supreme Court decision.
One of them, called the Women’s Health Protection Act, would ban all restrictions on abortions. It would supersede the restrictions already imposed by 16 states since June 24.
The second, called the Ensuring Access to Abortion Act, would ban states from enforcing laws that prevent or punish women from traveling across state lines to obtain abortions. Some states, like Texas, also would impose criminal penalties on anyone who helped pregnant women obtain abortions in other states.
The Biden administration supports both of the bills but recognizes the challenges. A final vote on the bills is scheduled for Friday in the House, where they are expected to win approval.
Greater opposition is expected among the Senate’s Republicans. Last year, an earlier version of the Women’s Health Protection Act failed in the Senate by a 51-to-49 margin.
In state action, a judge’s order this week is blocking Louisiana authorities from enforcing the state legislature’s near total ban on abortion.
Judge Donald Johnson ruled that enforcement of the ban must await the outcome of a lawsuit filed by supporters of abortion rights who are challenging the state law. There are three abortion clinics in Louisiana, in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Shreveport.
State Attorney General Jeff Landry criticized the ruling on Twitter, writing, “To have the judiciary create a legal circus is disappointing.”
The range of arguments that led to the back-and-forth heated rhetoric was on display during the House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing.
Maloney, the committee chairwoman, said, “The Dobbs decision means the government can now order women to stay pregnant on threat of criminal punishment.”
She described the ruling as out of touch with mainstream American opinions, which she said favor abortion rights. A CBS News poll two weeks ago showed 59% of Americans disapprove of the ruling, including 67% of women.
Her arguments were unconvincing to conservatives on her committee and at least one of the anti-abortion witnesses.
Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., said he agreed with the Supreme Court’s conclusion that abortion is not a federal right.
“The Dobbs decision did not outlaw abortion,” Comer said. “Instead, it returned the decision to the states.”
Erin Morrow Hawley, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, called the June 24 Supreme Court decision “a tremendous victory for life and the American people.”
She called the Roe v. Wade precedent, “terrible constitutional law.”
She added, “Roe took from the American people the right to protect unborn life.”
Alliance Defending Freedom is a conservative Christian legal advocacy group focused on blocking rights and protections for LGBTQ people; expanding Christian practices within public schools and in government; and preventing access to abortion and contraception.
Other witnesses, such as Renitta Shannon, a member of the Georgia State House of Representatives, said the primary issue should be how much authority the government exerts over people’s private lives.
“Abortion rights never should have been left up to the courts,” Shannon said.
Tom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @tramstack.
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