An Historic Push to Protect Reproductive Rights

By Sen. Richard Blumenthal & Rep. Judy Chu

The antiabortion bill introduced just days ago in the Senate -- mirroring the House's 20 week restrictions -- is a nonsensical, unconstitutional nonstarter. But it is still dangerous -- more for what it reflects in the nation than its chances of passing.

The bill would ban abortions after 20 weeks regardless of harm to the health of women, and criminally punish doctors for using their professional medical judgment.

Constitutional rights are perhaps the most fundamental aspect of what it means to be an American. Our freedom of speech ensures that all voices -- not just the well-connected or politically convenient -- can be heard. Our freedoms to assemble and worship as we see fit allow us to live without government intrusion. Included in these rights is the right that every woman has to make decisions about her own body -- including the deeply personal decision to continue or end a pregnancy.

Since the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, our country has firmly understood this right as essential for giving women the ability to consider the best course for themselves and their families. But recently, state legislatures across the country have enacted laws eroding this fundamental right, leaving women in some parts of the country in dire circumstances with nowhere to turn. In 2011 alone, states passed a record 92 restrictions on a woman's right to choose. Since then, they enacted over 100 more.

On November 1st of this year, three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reinstated a Texas law requiring doctors performing abortion procedures to have formal admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic. This new obstacle forced nearly one third of all clinics in the state to close their doors. For women in Texas, this means longer waits, higher costs, and canceled appointments. To put it into context -- some women would have to travel over 150 miles to find a provider, and others who might have been saving money for their appointment may no longer be able to afford the procedure they need. These obstacles have put many women in desperate circumstances, some of which may very well endanger their lives.

Even worse, Texas is far from alone. Forty-one states have passed similar restrictions. These laws include bans on abortion that take place as early as six weeks -- before many women even know they are pregnant. Measures designed to harass and shut down reproductive health care providers impose trumped-up regulations that are impossible to fulfill. They are passed under the guise of improving women's health or safety -- but in reality they put lives at risk, preventing women across the country from getting the health care they need.

This assault on essential, constitutionally protected rights has gone on too long. We are introducing the Women's Health Protection Act of 2013 this week to end it, once and for all. Our bill would stop states from subjecting reproductive health care providers to burdensome requirements that are not applied to medical professionals providing similar services. Laws would no longer be used to interfere with women's personal, private decision making -- nor would they limit access to safe and legal medical care. Our bill will nullify dangerous regulations that stifle access to abortion care and endanger women.

Constitutional rights should never be subject to the personal whims or beliefs of political leaders. Nor should the safety of women -- be they mothers, daughters, sisters or wives -- be jeopardized in the process. Personal medical decisions belong solely to the people they impact and the medical professionals they trust. The Women's Health Protection Act will restore for all women the ability to make those decisions.