- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Congress should step in and prohibit states from harassing abortion providers and impeding women’s right to obtain the procedure, witnesses told a Senate committee hearing Tuesday.

Too many states are “trying to turn back the clock” on women’s access to quality care by passing restrictive provisions — 205 measures have been enacted in the past three years alone, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin Democrat, told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

She and others called for passage of the Women’s Health Protection Act, a Democrat-sponsored bill that would invalidate any laws that undermine women’s right to an abortion, don’t advance their health or don’t make abortion services safer.

Senate Republicans and their witnesses countered those arguments by asking for a side-by-side Senate votes on the Democrat bill and one introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, that would outlaw most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

“Let’s have a joint vote and see where everybody falls out on it,” said Mr. Graham, lead sponsor of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.

The Democratic bill was introduced by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, and 35 co-sponsors. Supporters said it would stop the “avalanche” of state restrictions, such as requiring building specifications for abortion clinics and local hospital-admitting privileges of abortion doctors.

These laws are being used to close clinics — Mississippi’s lone abortion facility is “holding on” by virtue of a temporary court order, and a Texas law has forced the closing of clinics in “the entire Rio Grande Valley,” Nancy Northup, president and chief executive of the Center for Reproductive Rights, told the hearing, which was led by Mr. Blumenthal.

Only abortion providers are being “singled out,” Ms. Northup said, noting that doctors who operate on women to “complete” their partial miscarriages are not subject to the rules.

Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, Hawaii Democrat, was dismayed that Chicago abortion provider Dr. Willie Parker, who regularly flies to Mississippi to perform abortions, had been unable to get admitting privileges in Mississippi, despite applying at every hospital in the area.

“I think your experience just points out how difficult these laws make it for women in certain states to have access to certain kinds of health care services,” Ms. Hirono said.

Republicans and their allies, however, said states had the 10th Amendment right to regulate medical services within their borders, and imprisoned “house of horrors” abortionist Kermit Gosnell demonstrated a clear need for oversight of clinics.

“If the bill we are discussing today” were to become law, the Pennsylvania laws that helped convict Gosnell “would be wiped away,” said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, referring to the former doctor who specialized in late-term abortions in a filthy clinic with unskilled workers, and was convicted of three murders of newborn children and a lesser charge in the death of a mother.

Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, said he had 317 statements from Texas women about how they were “hurt by abortion,” while Republican Sens. Orrin G. Hatch and Mike Lee of Utah decried the idea that Congress would overrule states on abortion regulations.

“There are so many layers” of rules in the Blumenthal bill “that practically any law dealing with abortion or impeding access in any way to abortion would be considered invalid,” said Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee.

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