Our Bodies, Our Choice: Why WHPA is the Hero Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice Needs
We’ve said it a billion times before and we’ll say it again, just so we’re clear: abortion is a safe, essential component of basic health care and a basic human right. Period, full stop. And, as the Supreme Court recognized nearly 50 years ago in Roe v. Wade, it’s your constitutional right to obtain an abortion — regardless of who you are, how much money you make, or where you live.
Brazenly disregarding the very structural foundations of our nation, extremist state officials are ignoring this law of the land to advance their own ideological agendas. Let’s say you live in Texas where, at least 24 hours before the procedure, your provider will give you a state-mandated, medically inaccurate lecture about fetal pain and the negative physical and psychological effects of abortion (including discredited links to breast cancer and infertility).
You may live in Missouri, currently one of six states with only one abortion clinic but poised to become the first to no longer offer the procedure since before Roe. Here, without exception for cases of rape or incest or for victims of child abuse, physicians cannot perform an abortion until they have notified a minor patient’s parent and received written consent. All patients must wait 72 hours between receiving state-mandated biased counselling and actually obtaining an abortion.
Or maybe you live in Louisiana and are required to obtain an ultrasound at least 24 hours prior to your abortion. During the ultrasound, your provider is legally compelled to show and describe the image to you — but don’t worry, lawmakers were kind enough to allow you to look away.
Now, let’s imagine for one horrifying minute that the blatantly unconstitutional restrictions that have been signed into law, passed, or introduced this year actually go into effect. In 2019, at least 30 state legislatures have considered abortion bans; some laws prohibit the procedure after six weeks, before most people even know they are pregnant, while others automatically outlaw all (or nearly all) abortions should Roe be overturned. Alabama’s outright abortion ban — which includes language directly comparing abortion to the Holocaust and other crimes against humanity — extends to every stage of pregnancy and makes performing the procedure a felony punishable by up to 99 years in prison. And in Texas, Representative Tony Tinderholt introduced a bill threatening people who have an abortion and their providers with the death penalty.
This is just a snapshot of the wave of draconian abortion restrictions sweeping the nation. As if this trend wasn’t terrifying enough, the original abortion ban (the Hyde Amendment) already pushes care out of reach for countless patients despite tireless efforts to end the discriminatory policy. Hyde will continue to disproportionately impact low-income people, people of color, young people, immigrants, and LGBTQ individuals regardless of whether these new restrictions ever take effect or whether those that have already been implemented are eventually invalidated.
And somehow, this is nothing new. Anti-abortion zealots have been openly designing laws to challenge Roe since 1973, claiming that they hope to return the power to regulate abortion throughout pregnancy to the states. However, the rise of “fetal personhood” legislation tells a different story. Georgia’s six-week ban specifically proclaims that “unborn children are a class of living, distinct person” to whom the state should provide “full legal recognition.” This language enables so-called “pro-lifers” to argue that the Supreme Court should extend the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause to fetuses and enact a nationwide abortion ban declaring that “life” begins at conception.
As an advocate, as an American, as a human, I am sick, I am outraged, and I am appalled; I am dozens of other adjectives that describe a person who is absolutely disgusted by our current reality, by the criminalization of pregnancy, and by forced births. But I am not done fighting for my community, for those most impacted by these unconscionable restrictions, and for a future of equal access to abortion for everyone, everywhere.
I am inspired by those who have come before me and by those who have dedicated their lives to the reproductive health, rights, and justice movement. For over 125 years, the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) has worked to make change happen and to pursue justice for all. Our 90,000 members and supporters won’t be bullied, shamed, or punished and we won’t back down until every single person can make their own decisions about their body, family, and future. We certainly won’t stand idly by while barriers to health care jeopardize any individual’s autonomy, health, or economic security and we won’t allow lawmakers to violate one of our country’s founding principles — cemented in the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause — by enshrining one religious view of “life” into law.
Our Jewish values compel us to call for a federal law to end these dangerous, medically unnecessary restrictions and to secure full access to safe and legal abortion as basic health care. The Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA, HR 2975/S 1645) is that law. The bill would create a new tool for safeguarding access to high-quality care and securing constitutional rights by protecting patients and providers from political interference. WHPA permits health care providers to deliver abortion services without limitations that are more burdensome than those imposed on medically comparable procedures, do not significantly advance patient health or the safety of abortion, or make abortion more difficult to access. Importantly, the legislation also establishes a new test for courts to apply when considering whether a requirement impedes access to abortion services in violation of WHPA.
Together with the EACH Woman Act’s (HR 1962/S 758) permanent end to Hyde, WHPA has the power to decimate major barriers to comprehensive abortion care and to recognize fully the promise of Roe: that pregnant individuals would not only have the right to choose abortion, but would also be able to freely access the procedure. We must turn our outrage into action and push Congress to put patient health first. It’s time to show up and fight back for reproductive rights, for human rights, and for equality and justice for all.