S J Chapman, Resident Blogger, (’12, Northwestern University Law School)
Last year, Sen. Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced a bill titled the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013 (WHPA). The bill’s intended purpose is “to protect a women’s right to determine whether and when to bear a child or to end a pregnancy by limiting restrictions on the provision of abortion.” The bill begins with legislative findings that acknowledge how access to safe, legal abortion services in the US has recently been hindered by obstructions such as blockades and violence in front of facilities, restrictions on insurance coverage, restrictions on minors’ ability to obtain an abortion, and injurious laws singling out abortion providers. These are serious obstacles to reproductive justice that must be addressed.
Thus, it is apt that the bill states, “federal legislation putting a stop to harmful restrictions throughout the United States is necessary to ensure that women in all States have access to safe abortion services, an essential constitutional right repeatedly affirmed by the United States Supreme Court.” In my opinion, the bill is ultimately too weak to effectively carry this goal out. It explicitly declares that the WHPA “does not apply to clinic violence, restrictions on insurance coverage of abortion, or requirements for parental consent or notification before any minor may obtain an abortion.”
So what does the bill do?
Basically, it prohibits regulating the manner in which abortion providers carry out their services, such as regulating which specific tests be performed, whether doctors may delegate certain tasks, whether a doctor may prescribe certain drugs, or whether a doctor may provide an abortion via telemedicine. The bill also feebly encourages Congress to “address” the larger issues like clinic violence, insurance restrictions, or parental notice laws in separate legislation.
All of this makes for a good start, but it’s a shame that Sen. Blumenthal ultimately passes the buck on some of the largest issues that hinder reproductive freedom today rather than championing them in this bill.