Democrats roll the dice on abortion rights bill – again
A newly conservative Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case it was believed would use to overturn the landmark 1973 ruling on abortion rights, Roe vs. Wade. And Capitol Hill Democrats, confident the issue would work in their political favor, pledged to propose legislation that would enshrine abortion protections into federal law. “We are going to debate it. We will vote on it. And we will adopt it, ”promised the Democratic leader of the Senate.
Seems familiar? The year was 1992. The Supreme Court case in question was Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey. After the court surprised almost everyone by defending the right to abortion, the legislation, called the “Freedom of Choice Act,” never reached the Senate or the House. (Click the hyperlink to go back in time.)
Lawmakers today face almost the same situation. The Supreme Court has scheduled arguments this week for Dec. 1 in a Mississippi case challenging that state’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. And the House, as early as this week, could vote on the latest version of the Freedom of Choice Act, now called the “Women’s Health Protection Act”.
The question now, as then, is whether the legislation will help or hurt Democrats on one of the most polarizing issues in politics.
As in 1992, opponents of the current bill complain that it would go far beyond simply drafting protections for Roe deer in federal law. In addition to guaranteeing a person’s right to abortion throughout pregnancy, the legislation would override many state restrictions that the Supreme Court has allowed even though Roe deer stands, including those requiring parental involvement in the decision to abort a minor.
“This is possibly the most extreme legislation ever,” Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) Told the House Rules Committee on Monday. “Abortion for any reason at any stage of pregnancy until birth. “
The bill, Republicans complained, would not only reverse existing state abortion restrictions, but it could also lead to mandatory public funding for abortion. The overthrow of the so-called Hyde Amendment that has banned most federal funding for abortion since the late 1970s is a priority for many progressive Democrats, but it also marks a line that voters in many swing districts don’t want. not that their elected officials cross.
While the scenarios seem eerily similar, some key differences emerge. Most important: In 1992, the threat to the right to abortion was moot; in 2021, millions of pregnant people have already lost their reproductive rights after the High Court failed to block a controversial Texas law that bans nearly all abortions as early as six weeks pregnant. To prevent the courts from blocking it, the law must be enforced not by state officials, but by individuals suing those who “help or encourage” someone to obtain an abortion.
Under the law, Representative Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) Told the Rules Committee on Monday that “the whole country has essentially been turned into bounty hunters for women exercising a constitutionally protected right.”
“Texas has just completely changed what is at stake,” said Cecile Richards, former president of Planned Parenthood and longtime observer of Texas politics. (Her mother, Ann Richards, who died in 2006, was governor in the 1990s.) “Well, it just happened.”
Yet abortion policy is both very similar to what it was three decades ago, and very different.
What is the same is that the outliers of both parties – Democrats who oppose abortion rights and Republicans who support them – would rather not have to vote on the issue. What is different is that there are a lot less outliers today. In 1992, nearly a third of Democrats opposed abortion, including then-Pennsylvania Governor Robert Casey, who was the defendant in the Planned Parenthood trial and who attempted, publicly and unsuccessfully, to change the party platform in 1992 to oppose abortion. Her son, Senator Robert “Bob” Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), Is one of a handful of Senate Democrats who do not strongly support abortion rights.
But it’s not just the anti-abortion Democrats who are outnumbered. In 1992, Republicans were as likely to lead the fight for abortion rights as Democrats, and most efforts were bipartisan. Before 1972, in fact, Republicans were generally more supportive of abortion rights than Democrats.
And obviously the biggest difference between now and 1992 is that Republican President George HW Bush has vowed to veto the abortion rights bill if it passes. President Joe Biden would sign it, according to an official “Administrative Policy Statement” released Monday. “Following the unprecedented attack in Texas, it has never been more important to codify this constitutional right and to strengthen access to health care for all women, regardless of their place of residence,” indicates the press release.
Bush and Biden’s own positions on abortion probably best demonstrate how much the parties have changed on the issue. As a member of the House, former President Bush was the primary sponsor of the federal government’s Title X family planning program – now strongly opposed by anti-abortion Republicans. Biden, a devout Catholic, opposed the right to abortion early in his Senate career and was criticized by activists for not uttering the word “abortion” as president until the Texas law comes into effect.
Biden, however, will almost certainly not have the opportunity to sign the Women’s Health Protection Act. At least not anytime soon. While the bill may have enough support to get through the House, support in the Senate remains well below the 60 votes needed to break a blockage.
That won’t stop the fight from happening, however. What remains to be seen is which side of the abortion debate will ultimately win the battle for public support.
HealthBent, a regular feature of Kaiser Health News, offers policy and policy insight and analysis from KHN Washington Chief Correspondent Julie Rovner, who has covered healthcare for over 30 years.
KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health issues. Along with policy analysis and surveys, KHN is one of the three main operational programs of the KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization that provides information on health issues to the nation.
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