House passes bill to ensure abortion access in response to Texas law
The House passed legislation on Friday to ensure nationwide access to abortion after the Supreme Court earlier this month declined to block a Texas law that bans the procedure in nearly all cases.
The bill passed along party lines, 218-211, with only one conservative Democrat, Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas), voting against it. It now heads to the Senate, where it’s likely to stall given a presumptive GOP filibuster if it were to come up for a vote.
Although the abortion measure is set to become the latest Democratic priority added to the piling number of bills unable to pass despite the party’s threadbare majority in the Senate and control of the presidency, House Democrats nevertheless wanted to act in the face of the Supreme Court’s decision.
“With today’s historic vote, we are ensuring that access to abortion care is a right from Texas to California,” said Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), the author of the legislation. “This bill respects our right and the freedom to make our own choices about our bodies, and it leaves those decisions up to us and our doctors. It’s time to take control of our bodies out of the hands of extreme right-wing politicians.”
Earlier this month, the conservative-dominated Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling denying an emergency request from abortion providers to halt the Texas law.
The Texas law prohibits abortions after the presence of a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can happen as early as six weeks of pregnancy.
But many women do not even necessarily know they are pregnant before that time. Abortion groups estimate that 85 percent to 90 percent of women who seek abortions in Texas are at least six weeks pregnant.
The Texas law also has a provision that allows private citizens to sue anyone who performs or aids an abortion in violation of the statute, and provides at least $10,000 for each successful suit.
Republicans argued that abortion should be prohibited on moral grounds.
“Abortion for any reason, at any stage of pregnancy, until birth is not the will of the American people,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
McMorris Rodgers acknowledged that she has never had an abortion, but “gave thoughts in my younger years as to what I would do if I found myself pregnant and alone.”
“It would have been a desperate situation. I can imagine abortion seeming like an easy solution. It breaks my heart, though, to think that anyone who would consider abortion as their only option or the best option,” McMorris Rodgers said.
Even if the Senate filibuster requiring at least 60 votes weren’t a roadblock, it’s not clear if Democrats would have the votes to pass the legislation in the upper chamber. The Senate companion bill has the support of 48 Democrats, but two have not co-sponsored it: Sens. Bob Casey (Pa.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.).
The fight over abortion is set to appear before the Supreme Court again in the coming months.
The Supreme Court announced earlier this week that it will hear arguments in December on a Mississippi restriction barring most abortions after 15 weeks.
That will pit another state abortion restriction against the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which prohibits states from banning abortion before a fetus reaches the point of viability. That point is typically around 24 weeks of pregnancy.
In what could be another test for the Texas law, two plaintiffs — both disbarred lawyers — filed lawsuits earlier this week against a San Antonio doctor who publicly wrote about providing an abortion to a woman whose pregnancy was beyond the state’s new limit.
The Justice Department has also sued Texas over its abortion law.
“This kind of scheme to nullify the Constitution of the United States is one that all Americans, whatever their politics or party, should fear,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said while announcing the lawsuit.
The Biden administration has issued support for the House legislation on abortion rights and “looks forward to working with Congress” to ensure the bill codifies access to abortion care.
“In the wake of Texas’ unprecedented attack, it has never been more important to codify this constitutional right and to strengthen health care access for all women, regardless of where they live,” reads a Statement of Administration Policy from earlier this week.