House committee debates bill that would overrule state restrictions on abortion

The House Energy and Commerce Committee met on Wednesday to discuss legislation that would override state regulations on abortion, a bill pro-life critics describe as unconstitutional overreach from Washington.

"For the first time in 20 years, our committee is considering a proactive bill that would guarantee the constitutional right to abortion care; free from the interference of any politician, who has no place in making this very personal decision," Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said of the Women's Health Protection Act.

Republicans like Committee Ranking Member Greg Walden, R-Ore., describe the bill as a radical attempt to deregulate abortion access, allowing "abortion on demand" at any stage of fetal development. The bill, Walden said, was "yet another deceptively titled partisan bill that has no chance of becoming law or being considered by the Senate."

There are currently hundreds of state laws regulating abortions, varying from regulations on clinic standards to outright bans on the procedure, all part of what pro-choice advocates describe as an unprecedented attack on abortion access.

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Leading the charge for state-level restrictions is Americans United for Life, a pro-life group that works at both the court and legislative level.

“Aren't Americans tired of Washington power grabs?" AUL President Catherine Glenn Foster asked in a statement to Fox News. "The whole point of living in a democracy is that your vote matters. What the House is considering would void democratically enacted health and safety protections for more than 100 million Americans. What the House is trying to do isn't only blatantly unconstitutional; it’s morally wrong.”

The Women's Health Protection Act is unlikely to succeed with a GOP-controlled Senate and White House, but that could change depending on the results of the 2020 elections.

The bill grants health care providers a "statutory right" to perform abortions and effectively voids a long list of regulations at the state level. These include requirements that doctors perform certain tests or procedures prior to an abortion. The bill also prohibits limitations on providing abortion services via telemedicine, an emerging form of access that pro-life leaders have criticized as dangerous.

The bill's text includes a provision blocking abortion bans prior to fetal viability, and grants post-viability abortions in cases where a health care provider believes the continuation of the pregnancy "would pose a risk to the pregnant patient's life or health."

"Even the original Roe v. Wade ruling never envisioned the extreme position reflected in this bill," Walden said. "By overturning nearly all federal and state limitations on abortion, the deceptively named Women's Health Protection Act would require the provisions of abortion on demand, at any stage of pregnancy, regardless of any compelling interest in the welfare of the patient, the protection of human life, or the conscience of the health practitioner."

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Committee chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said state laws infringed on women's constitutional rights. "The result of these increasingly restrictive laws is that women all across the country are having a harder time accessing abortion care, which they have a constitutional right to obtain," he said.

Wednesday's hearing took place one day after the Senate Judiciary Committee debated a measure that would provide legal protections for a child born alive after abortions and a little over a week after President Trump recognized a young girl born at 21 weeks -- earlier than the generally accepted gestational age for fetal viability -- in his State of the Union Address.

Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, who previously worked as an OBGYN, claimed on Wednesday that he delivered a baby at 23 weeks which went on to "thrive without any neurologic sequelae." He also argued that the bill threatened women's health by removing needed regulations on the procedure.

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But Democrats have defended the bill as a way to ensure women have access to abortion, regardless of where they live. Pro-choice advocates often decry how women seeking an abortion have to travel long distances or face extensive waiting times due to state restrictions.

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"For the first time in over 20 years, the House is holding a hearing on protecting access to abortion! My bill - the Women's Health Protection Act - will stop state attacks on women, enshrine Roe into law & ensure that our rights do not depend on our zip code," Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., tweeted on Wednesday.

Polling has tended to show a slew of other issues ranking higher among voter concerns before the 2020 election. But according to Gallup's historical trends, Americans have consistently said they wanted abortions to be legal only under only certain circumstances. And a Marist poll from January showed that about two-thirds of registered voters, including 44 percent of Democrats, said they were more likely to vote for candidates who limit abortion to the first trimester.