House prepares for abortion fight

Both sides have been energized by implementation of the Texas ban prohibiting almost all abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy

The White House says it is reviewing its options before committing to a policy to protect abortion access. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
The White House says it is reviewing its options before committing to a policy to protect abortion access. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted September 21, 2021 at 4:01pm

Tensions between Democrats and Republicans over an abortion rights bill that the House is teeing up for a vote this week are rising in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to let Texas essentially ban most abortions for now and its agreement to hear oral arguments in another major abortion case in December.

The chamber is expected later this week, likely Friday, to pass the bill that would protect access to abortion and the ability of providers to perform them.

Both sides of the abortion debate have been energized by the implementation of the Texas abortion ban, which prohibits almost all abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. The law also includes unique language allowing anyone who assisted in an abortion to be sued in any Texas court. It does not include exceptions for rape or incest.

The White House announced Monday that it will back the abortion bill, citing the Texas law.

“In the wake of Texas’ unprecedented attack, it has never been more important to codify this constitutional right and to strengthen health care access for all women, regardless of where they live,” the statement reads.

On Sept. 8, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the White House was reviewing its options before committing to a policy to protect abortion access.

Democrats have used the Texas law as a talking point and in pushing for abortion rights. The Department of Justice challenged the law in court, and last week the Department of Health and Human Services announced a three-pronged approach directed at reproductive care in Texas.

During a House Rules Committee meeting Monday on the upcoming floor debate, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said the House bill is intended to restore the precedent set under the 1992 Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a decision written by Sandra Day O’Connor that clarified that states can implement restrictions on abortion after the point of viability when a fetus could survive outside the womb.

Raskin said many states have passed their own laws mirroring the rights in the Casey decision or the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which found that women have a constitutional right to abortion. 

“We’re doing what a lot of states have done,” he said.

Data from the Guttmacher Institute, a left-leaning reproductive health research organization, shows that if the Supreme Court precedents on abortion were struck down, 22 states have laws that could limit legal access to abortion, compared with laws protecting legal abortions in 15 states and the District of Columbia.

In the Rules session, Raskin asked House Energy and Commerce ranking member Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., who opposes the House bill, if she supports the Texas law.

“This is not about the Texas law,” she said.

Republicans also argued in the Rules debate that the bill’s description of viability was vague.

“The definition of viability is just left up to the provider. That, I think, just opens the door to personal interpretation,” said McMorris Rodgers.

Rep. Michael C. Burgess, R-Texas, who is also an OB-GYN, expressed concerns that the bill moved forward without a Congressional Budget Office cost estimate or a hearing.

“What is the effect of monetization of this procedure and what would be the fiscal impact?” he said. “That’s a problem. Some people feel that abortion is health care. Myself, who has spent a lifetime in health care, I don’t feel abortion is health care.”

Upcoming court action

The House action also comes amid a spate of courtroom activity on abortion bans. On Friday, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is set to hear oral arguments challenging another six-week abortion ban that Georgia passed in 2019. Unlike the Texas law, the Georgia statute has not gone into effect.

The Supreme Court also announced it will hear oral arguments on Dec. 1 in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case that is set to determine if a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy can take effect there.

Several abortion rights groups that oppose the law filed a brief Monday.

The groups, including National Abortion Federation, Physicians for Reproductive Health and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, called the Texas law “a frightening preview of a post-Roe world.” 

Mississippi also released a statement.

“The Court has acknowledged that states have the authority to promote legitimate interests, including protecting women’s health and defending life; but its abortion precedents have denied the people and their elected leaders the ability to fully do so,” said Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch. “With Dobbs, the Supreme Court can return decision-making about abortion policy to the elected leaders and allow the people to empower women and promote life.”