Democrats in Congress Lead Fight for Abortion Access: “Abortion Is Healthcare, Plain and Simple”

“My colleagues in the Senate must pass the Women’s Health Protection Act immediately to protect the fundamental right to access abortion regardless of a person’s zip code or income. We must not go back. The time for action is now.”

—Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney

Rep. Carolyn Maloney stands with supporters from the Center for Reproductive Rights on Oct. 2 during the Women’s March in D.C. (Twitter)

On September 1, Texas achieved what many thought was impossible: a near-total ban on abortion. Despite the law’s unpopularity and defiance of Supreme Court precedent, for the almost seven weeks it’s been in effect, no courts or lawmakers have been successfully able to block the law. But hasn’t kept members of Congress from using the platforms and legal maneuvering they have access to, building political pressure to ensure that enacted laws reflect the will of the bipartisan pro-choice majority in the U.S.

On Sep. 30, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, held a hearing to discuss the impact of the Texas ban and the future of U.S. abortion rights in the face of anti-choice state governments and a Supreme Court hostile to reproductive rights. (A companion hearing in the Senate specifically on the role of the Supreme Court in blocking such laws, occurred the day before.)

In her opening statement, Maloney said she called the hearing “to sound the alarm on the grave threat to abortion rights and access in the United States.”

During the House hearing, Reps. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) shared their personal experiences with abortion and called for expanded access to abortion.

“Whether the choice to have an abortion is easy or hard, whether there are traumatic situations or not, none of that should be the issue. It is simply nobody’s business what choices we as pregnant people make about our own bodies,” said Jayapal during her testimony.

“To all the Black women and girls who have had abortions or will have abortions, know this: We have nothing to be ashamed of,” Bush said.

“Abortion care is healthcare, plain and simple,” Maloney told Ms. in an interview after the hearing. “Access to it should not depend on who’s in office or a person’s income or zip code. And many of us have been in these fights for absolute decades. But it’s never been more serious and crucial that Congress act to protect abortion rights and expand access in the country.”

“Our democratically elected institutions follow the will of America’s pro-choice majority,” she added.

Rep. Bush at an abortion rally last month. During a recent House hearing on abortion bans, Bush discussed her decision to have an abortion following a sexual assault when she was 17. (Richard Reilly via @coribush Instagram)

It’s not just women lawmakers like Maloney, Bush, Jayapal and Lee who are growing increasingly vocal on the issue of abortion: On September 24, the House of Representatives passed the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA)—federal legislation that would codify Roe v. Wade in law and establish the legal right to abortion in all 50 states under federal law. The bill was first reintroduced on Tuesday, June 8, by Reps. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) and Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) and clocked the highest recorded number of original co-sponsors for a bill. Additionally, 61 percent of U.S. voters support WHPA. The bill awaits a Senate vote, but will likely be stymied by the filibuster.

Still, Maloney challenges her colleagues to stand up for abortion rights: “The choice is clear, as far as I am concerned. We’ve had five decades of progress; let’s not go backward. We have to take this threat to Texas very, very seriously. And we have to attack it with everything that we have.”

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Juliet Schulman-Hall is an editorial fellow for Ms. and a senior at Smith College. She is majoring in English language & literature, minoring in sociology, and concentrating in poetry. Her beats include America's health care system, disability, global politics and climate change, and criminal justice reform and abolition. Follow her @jschulmanhall