Dems’ bill fights back against attacks on reproductive rights

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Democrats in Congress are working to pass legislation that would protect reproductive freedom, which is under repeated attack in Wisconsin, Texas and other states four decades after the Supreme Court affirmed a woman’s right to choice in Roe v. Wade.

In mid-November, U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin, Richard Blumenthal and Barbara Boxer and Reps. Judy Chu, Maria Fudge and Lois Frankel introduced the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013 “to protect a woman’s right to determine whether and when to bear a child or end a pregnancy by limiting restrictions on the provision of abortion services.”

With 32 co-sponsors in the Senate and 67 co-sponsors in the House, WHPA was proposed just days before the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene in a legal dispute over a law that has forced a third of Texas’ abortion clinics to close. The measure requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. No more than 20 clinics were able to meet the new standard, which means that some women must travel hundreds of miles to obtain an abortion in Texas. And all of the facilities that remain open are in metropolitan areas, leaving none in the Rio Grande Valley along the border with Mexico.

The Texas law on admitting privileges was part of a package of abortion restrictions that the GOP-controlled Legislature passed over the summer after Gov. Rick Perry called a special session. The restrictions, which are among the toughest in the nation, gained notoriety when Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis launched a nearly 13-hour filibuster against them in June.

Two other states that are enforcing laws on admitting privileges are Tennessee and Utah. Courts have temporarily halted similar laws in Wisconsin, as well as in Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi and North Dakota.

Baldwin, announcing the introduction of WHPA, said, “In Wisconsin and in states across the country, politicians have been standing between women and their doctors, restricting the choices women can make regarding their own reproductive health.”

Planned Parenthood of America has reported that in recent years more than 160 restrictions on access to abortions have passed in 30 states, including more than 40 new restrictions this year aone.

“Around the country, women are subjected to onerous waiting periods and forced to listen to medically inaccurate claims about their choices,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “Abortion clinics are targeted for unnecessary and burdensome requirements designed to shut them down for good. In some states, outright bans challenge the very foundation of the Roe decision and force the will of politicians into women’s private decisions.”

In Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Scott Walker has signed nine measures intended to restrict women’s access to health care.

“It is clear that we need federal protection from these unwarranted intrusions into our personal health care decisions,” said Eve Galanter of Wisconsin Women’s Network, which endorsed WHPA in mid-November.

Other advocates of WHPA in Wisconsin include the American Association of University Women of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health, Wisconsin Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin.

“Sen. Baldwin’s legislation would make it unlawful for politicians to interfere with women’s personal health care decisions,” said Tanya Atkinson, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin. “This bill would ensure that a woman’s freedoms don’t depend on her ZIP code.”

Baldwin — who defeated Tommy Thompson in 2012 to become the first openly gay person elected to the Senate — said, “I am proud to stand up to these attacks on women’s freedoms.
. . . Every American woman deserves the freedom to exercise her constitutional rights by making personal health decisions with a trusted doctor and without political interference.”

AP contributed to this report

Albuquerque voters reject late-term abortion ban

In a closely watched, first-of-its kind election, voters in New Mexico’s largest city have soundly defeated a ban on late-term abortions.

Voters on Nov. 19 rejected the measure 55 percent to 45 percent following an emotional and graphic campaign that brought in national groups and hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising. The campaign included protests that compared abortion to the Holocaust and displayed pictures of aborted fetuses. 

A coalition of groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and Planned Parenthood, called the results a huge victory for Albuquerque women and families. 

Activists on both sides said it was the first municipal ballot measure on the matter.

— AP