Democrats declared “war” Thursday against Republican-led states approving new abortion restrictions, and announced legislation to codify abortion rights in federal law.
The legislation is unlikely to advance far in Congress, but it creates a flash point for lawmakers looking to push back against Alabama, Georgia, Missouri and other states that either have passed or are eyeing new limits on when an abortion can be obtained.
“Make no mistake. We’re at war,” said Rep. Lois Frankel, Florida Democrat. “The Trump administration and Republicans all over this country have declared war against the women trying to take away the right from us to make very important decisions about our health care.”
She and fellow Democrats are pushing legislation that they said would stop the full panoply of efforts in the states to limit abortion access. Among those are “heartbeat bills,” which restrict abortion after the point at which a fetus has a heartbeat; waiting periods; and rules requiring clinics to meet certain medical standards.
They cast their legislation as an opportunity to push back on what they saw as states chipping away at a constitutional right.
“Our bill finally puts a stop to the state-based attacks that anti-abortion advocates have been trying to use to undermine or even reverse Roe,” said Rep. Judy Chu, California Democrat.
Sponsors count 169 members backing the bill in the House, and 41 in the Senate.
Democratic leaders long have been reticent to embrace an abortion fight, figuring they can leave the matter to the courts for judges to shoot down the laws in quick order.
Those court battles are exactly what some of the state lawmakers backing the new laws want, hoping for a challenge to the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which established the right to have an abortion.
But Rep. Terri Sewell, an Alabama Democrat whose state approved the most restrictive of the laws, said that was a poor reason to pass a bill.
“We cannot afford to spend millions of dollars taking an unconstitutional bill up to the Supreme Court. For what?” she said. “It’s unfair.”
Prominent pro-life Republicans, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and President Trump, distanced themselves from the Alabama bill in particular — saying it went too far by outlawing all abortions except in cases where the pregnancy is a risk to the pregnant person’s life or could have severe health consequences.
Georgia, Missouri and Mississippi have passed heartbeat bills effectively banning abortion after the six to eight week marker — though Georgia’s law does have exceptions for rape and incest. At the six to eight week marker, many people are unaware that they are pregnant.
Democrats challenged Republicans on Capitol Hill to join them in pushing back against the restrictive laws.
“Let’s be blunt. Republicans have yet to join this bill and they ought to be reading the very clear signs about not just the politics but the morality and the legal rights that are at stake,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat.
Democrats said they’re also looking to expand access to birth control, curtail abstinence-only sex education, and repeal the Hyde Amendment that prohibits the use of federal taxpayers’ money to pay for abortions.
“There’s a lot at stake,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “Whatever they cook up — we don’t agonize, we organize.”