After years of restrictive abortion laws passing Republican state legislatures, Democratic members of Congress have decided to finally battle back. Senators Richard Blumenthal, Tammy Baldwin, Barbara Boxer, and Reps. Judy Chu, Louis Frankel, and Marcia Fudge have introduced the Women's Health Protection Act. The bill would force states to prove that extensive measures at banning abortion under the guide of protecting women's health will actually do what they claim to do: protect women's health. This law would go as far to disallow states from passing TRAP laws (targeted regulation of abortion providers), as many states have passed laws that put such stringent regulations on abortion clinics, they have been forced to close. It would set up the criteria of a direct link between these measures and proven goals of protecting women's health, not just banning abortion.
This law, though unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled House, suggests a powerful idea that Republican states have been loathe to admit; namely, that these restrictive policies do nothing to promote women's health, but instead make it more difficult (and more dangerous) for women to receive legal abortions. The bill is extensive, discussing the burden these laws put on low-income women in particular, and advocates for treating abortion providers as any other medical service provider. However, the bill would not invalidate state laws but instead set markers for federal courts, allowing more suits to be filed against these bills without the fear of a court's validation of the state statute.
Though proponents of the bill understand that it has little chance of passing the House, it has provided an opportunity for Democrats to position-take. In a debate that is largely characterized by the action-taking of Republicans and pro-lifers, Democrats could gain significant ground with women fed up with these restrictive measures by demonstrating that they do, in fact, care and want to make a change. Furthermore, in light of the struggles over Obamacare, this could allow Democrats to align themselves with a different part of the Healthcare debate, one that portrays them as active instead of passively accepting the issues of Obamacare. As Blumenthal commented, "As the election approaches, I think the voters are going to want to know where legislators stand on these issues," he demonstrated that this bill, though important, may also be part and parcel of the larger PR strategy of Democrats leading to the upcoming elections. Proposing strong, position-taking measures like this one help garner party unity while signaling legislative action to constituents who may be fed up with Congressional inaction. Again, watching the Republican House defeat this measure may help Democrats to, once again, point to the Republicans as the source for the failures of compromise in Congress. Considering the last time Congress passed a bill on abortion was 1994 (which protected abortion clinics from violence), it will be interesting to watch the progress of the bill, as well as the debate surrounding it.