US Senate to Vote on Urgently Needed Legislation to Protect People from Barrage of Anti-Abortion Laws
"Abortion is health care, plain and simple. We call on the US Senate to do what’s right—follow the overwhelming public health evidence and support the Women’s Health Protection Act."
- Dr. Herminia Palacio
On February 28, 2022, the US Senate will hold a vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA).
WHPA is urgently needed legislation that would establish a federal statutory right for providers to deliver and patients to receive abortion care free from politically motivated bans and most other types of restrictions. This legislation was passed by the US House of Representatives in late 2021.
"On Monday, the US Senate will vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act, a critical step toward ensuring equal access to abortion care—no matter where someone lives," says Guttmacher Institute President and CEO Dr. Herminia Palacio. "Last year, we witnessed unprecedented threats to abortion rights and access. States enacted a record 108 new restrictions, and well over 1,300 restrictions have now been enacted since 1973. One of those restrictions was the Texas six-week abortion ban, which has been allowed to wreak havoc on people’s lives and health for over five months now. And we still have a crucial US Supreme Court decision looming this summer that could gut or overturn Roe v. Wade outright. The Senate now must act with speed and urgency to stop this runaway train of state-level abortion restrictions and bans."
WHPA would protect against many types of abortion restrictions, and help to fight back against laws like the Texas six-week ban that went into effect in September 2021, as well as the Mississippi 15-week abortion ban that is awaiting a decision by the US Supreme Court.
"Abortion restrictions create even more barriers for people who are already struggling to get by or who are otherwise marginalized from timely and affordable care—including people with low incomes, people of color, young people, LGBTQ individuals and people in many rural communities," continued Dr. Palacio. "The Women’s Health Protection Act would protect against many state-level restrictions and gestational bans. Congress has the power to stop this onslaught. Abortion is health care, plain and simple. We call on the US Senate to do what’s right—follow the overwhelming public health evidence and support this legislation."
Three key things to know about the Women’s Health Protection Act
1) The Women’s Health Protection Act has been needed for a long time, and because 2021 was such a defining year in abortion rights history, its passage is even more critical now.
- 108 state-level abortion restrictions were enacted in 2021. That number far surpasses any other year since the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.
- In total, states have enacted more than 1,330 restrictions in the 49 years since Roe was decided, including nearly 600 restrictions enacted since 2011.
2) WHPA would protect against attacks like Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban that will soon be ruled on by the US Supreme Court.
- Last December, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Attorneys for Mississippi asked the Court to outright overturn Roe v. Wade. A decision in this case is expected by early summer 2022.
- The Supreme Court has a 6-3 anti-abortion majority. Many legal observers, and even the dissenting justices, were taken aback when the Supreme Court, on a 5-4 vote, allowed the Texas six-week abortion ban to go into effect on a procedural pretext.
3) WHPA explicitly protects against many of the most common and burdensome restrictions favored by anti-abortion lawmakers and would protect the right to abortion nationwide.
- WHPA would help protect pregnant people’s access to abortion—whether someone lives in California, Texas, Indiana or Maine—by establishing federal statutory rights for providers to provide and patients to receive abortion care free from medically unnecessary restrictions and bans.
- Importantly, if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned or weakened by the Supreme Court, the protections of WHPA—once passed into federal law—would stand and abortion access across the country would continue to be protected.
- The bill explicitly protects against some of the most common and burdensome restrictions favored by anti-abortion lawmakers, including:
- Previability bans: It is unconstitutional for states to ban abortion prior to viability, but that has not stopped state lawmakers from trying. In addition to bans based on gestational age, lawmakers have imposed bans on a specific method of abortion and bans based on someone’s reason for seeking abortion care.
- Mandatory medical procedures: Forcing patients to undergo medical tests or procedures, such as an ultrasound, when they are not medically required is demeaning and unethical and can increase the cost of abortion care.
- Medically inaccurate counseling: State requirements that abortion providers give patients inaccurate or false information about abortion intrude on the provider-patient relationship and infringe patients’ rights to receive relevant, accurate and unbiased information prior to obtaining medical care.
- Telemedicine abortion restrictions: Medication abortion can be safely and effectively administered via telehealth, which can help extend care to underserved communities and increase patient privacy and comfort. That is precisely why opponents of abortion have sought to ban the use of telemedicine for abortion.
- Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP): Admitting privileges requirements for abortion providers, like the Louisiana law struck down in June Medical Services v. Russo, are just one example of the many ways states have singled out abortion providers with requirements that are burdensome, costly, difficult to comply with and unnecessary for patient safety or health.
- Forcing extra trips: Requirements that force patients to make medically unnecessary in-person visits to a clinic or health care facility prior to receiving abortion care create additional burdens and barriers, including increased travel time, transportation costs, time off from work and child care.
- In addition, recognizing that anti-abortion activists and lawmakers will continue to seek out new ways to restrict abortion care, WHPA would guard against policies that are the same or similar to those explicitly barred by the bill, or that operate similarly by singling out abortion care with restrictions that impede access.
- To help courts assess these types of policies, the bill lays out a number of factors to consider, including whether the restriction is reasonably likely to cause delays in accessing care or result in a decrease in availability of abortion services in the state or region. It would also require courts to take into account the cumulative impact of applicable abortion restrictions.
- WHPA complements other important steps needed to protect and expand abortion access in the United States, including the EACH Act that would repeal the harmful Hyde Amendment and allow abortion coverage under Medicaid.