Rhiannon DiClemente, Guest Blogger (’16, Temple University Beasley School of Law)
Early Thursday morning on July 15, 2014, the Senate halls were bustling with interns, staff members, and local advocates eager to witness the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on S. 1696, also known as the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013 (WHPA). Attendees, who managed to overflow the room, patiently awaited testimony provided by members of Congress, doctors, and activists, both for and against the bill. In light of the decisions in Hobby Lobby and McCullen, it was reassuring to see politicians taking a long over-due stand to protect a woman’s constitutional right to determine whether and when to bear a child or end a pregnancy.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), addresses medically unnecessary state restrictions claimed to “protect” women’s health. It requires that state legislators prove state laws restricting abortion are in fact medically necessary, rather than politically or ideologically motivated. It also requires that states regulate abortion providers in exactly the same way they do other clinics and doctors who provide comparable services. The bill has its shortcomings, such as failing to address clinic violence, insurance prohibitions, and parental consent laws, as a March 2014 blog post highlights. However, it is an important step forward in combatting laws that have a disparate impact on low-income women, immigrant women, LGBT persons, and women of color.
Why is this bill important? As a LSRJ chapter leader at Temple University School of Law and a summer legal intern at the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), I know that despite the fact that we have Roe , the web of state restrictions has decimated abortion access. In states like Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi, the situation is dire. In 2012, the Mississippi legislature passed HB 1390, mandating that any physician performing abortions in the state have admitting privileges at an area hospital (an unnecessary practice). During the Senate committee hearing, Dr. Willie Parker, a board-certified OB/GYN and the last physician providing abortion care in Mississippi, testified that despite 13 attempts to gain admitting privileges at regional hospitals, not one of his requests has been granted. This is just one example of how seemingly ‘safety-oriented’ legislation is really aimed to shut down clinics and restrict abortion access.
At the hearing, Rep. Janet Chu (D-CA27) testified that between 2011 and 2013, states passed over 200 restrictions blocking access to abortion services. This translates to more restrictions on women’s health care in three years than in the entire preceding decade. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) highlighted that these restrictions have forced women to travel greater distances and endure longer wait times to obtain an abortion. “The effect of these laws is that a woman’s constitutional right now depends on her zip code,” stated Rep. Chu, “We need laws that put women’s health and safety first – not politics.”
By speaking out against arbitrary restrictions that do not reflect medical best practice standards, supporters of S. 1696 have declared their respect for the constitutional right to access abortion services and trust in a woman’s ability to make the best choices for her own health and life.
Full testimony can be found here.