What if a state passes a law that shuts down all abortion clinics within 150 miles of hundreds of thousands of women because the corridors were not the same width as a hospital with 100 beds? Would that be fair? How about 250 miles? 500 miles? Where would you draw the line? 

What if you had to drive 400 miles to see an abortion provider and then wait another day for the procedure — and not for any medically necessary reason? Another 2 days? Would being forced to miss two or three days of work for a procedure that takes less than an hour seem right to you? How about having to prove when you last had your period and when you last had sex to be sure the fetus was less than 20 weeks old? (And how exactly would you prove that?)

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These examples may seem extreme, but they come from real life. They are the product of a coordinated national campaign to make abortion unattainable. Each time a state legislator proposes any of these hobbling restrictions, the real goal is to deprive every woman of her right to make personal decisions about her body and health, according to her own moral, religious, or ethical beliefs and medical needs. No other constitutional right is subjected to such an exercise in obstruction and denial. 

That’s why a broad coalition supports passage of the Women’s Health Protection Act pending in Congress. This week, National Council of Jewish Women volunteers from across the country will join more than 100 other advocates from nearly 30 states in Washington, DC to speak out for this legislation — which would provide the federal protection clearly needed to ensure safe, legal abortion remains available regardless of where a person lives. 

Thankfully, many lawmakers do understand the danger and gross disrespect to women of the many attempts to put abortion out of reach. These attempts directly infringe on women’s decision-making, ignore providers, impose burdens on clinics, and make abortion beyond financial reach for many women. They fall hardest on those struggling to make ends meet, women of color, immigrant women, and young people.

For example, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 18 states require an abortion to be performed in a hospital after a specified point in the pregnancy, and just as many require a second physician’s involvement after a specified point, although the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists rejects these proposals. 

Seventeen states require that a woman be formally counseled before an abortion, including five that require women to hear about the (discredited) link between abortion and breast cancer; 12 want women to know about the purported ability of a fetus to feel pain; and seven think women should know about their state’s view of the long-term mental health consequences for those who seek an abortion. 

And 27 states mandate medically unnecessary waiting periods, 14 of which have laws that effectively require a woman make two separate trips to the clinic to obtain the procedure. These obstacles add loss of pay, travel expenses, overnight accommodations, and child care to the cost of an abortion.

A Texas law that has shut down the vast majority of abortion clinics in that state has several restrictions that fall in the category of targeted regulation of abortion providers, or TRAP laws. In Virginia, TRAP laws extend to the size of parking lots and clinic entrances — the state department of health estimates that the cost of compliance at each clinic will approach $1 million. Many clinics cannot meet the completely superfluous requirement that their doctors have admitting privileges in nearby hospitals — a purely business arrangement which hospitals are not required to grant in any case. The TRAP provisions of the Texas law are now before the US Supreme Court in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. But even if Texas loses, a federal law is needed to avoid litigating every new state law that attempts to get around the constitution to push abortion out of reach.

The Women’s Health Protection Act would go a very long way toward reversing the pernicious effects of the campaign against abortion access. It would eliminate restrictions on abortion that are neither science-based nor generally applicable to the practice of medicine and which instead interfere with women’s personal decision-making, all the while doing nothing to protect women’s health and safety. Advancing this proposal will take us an important step closer to realizing the promise of Roe v. Wade — that the US Constitution demands that a woman’s moral autonomy be respected by the law. We who strive to restore this ideal are among millions of individuals nationwide who won’t accept being controlled by a movement determined to erode and suppress our rights. It’s time for Congress to act for all women and safeguard abortion access no matter where they live.


Nancy K. Kaufman is the chief executive officer of the National Council of Jewish Women, a grassroots organization inspired by Jewish values that strives to improve the quality of life for women, children, and families and to safeguard individual rights and freedoms.