WASHINGTON — The House passed legislation Friday that would codify abortion rights protections amid threats to Roe v. Wade from a Texas law banning most abortions and a wave of restrictions in other states.
The measure advanced along party lines in a 218-211 vote, with only one Democrat, Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, voting against it. The legislation now faces a dead end in the evenly split Senate, where Democrats would need at least 10 Republicans to support the bill for it to advance to a final vote.
"This is about freedom, about freedom of women to have choice, about the size and timing of their families, [which is] not the business of people on the court or members of Congress," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said at a press conference with other House Democrats outside the Capitol ahead of the vote.
Pelosi denounced the Supreme Court's decision to allow the law to take effect in Texas, saying they were "just rubber-stamping what they were sent to the court to do — which is to harm the health and well-being of America's women."
The Supreme Court’s 5-4 order allowing the Texas law to take effect earlier this month was a "cowardly, dark-of-night decision to uphold a flagrantly unconstitutional assault on women’s rights and health” and "necessitates codifying Roe v. Wade," Pelosi had previously said.
Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., the lead sponsor of the Women's Health Protection Act, said Republicans have been using a two-pronged strategy over the last decade to attack abortion rights. First, she said, they "steadily packed the courts at every level with anti-choice judges" and second, "they've been crafting state laws designed to create a challenge to Roe for these judges to uphold."
"Congress must protect the rights of women and pregnant people in every ZIP code, putting an end to an attack on abortion once and for all," she said. "The Women's Health Protection Act is how we do that. I've introduced the Women's Health Protection Act since 2013 and in every Congress since then because we knew this day would come."
Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said the measure would ensure that all Americans, regardless of their race, socioeconomic position or place of residence "will have equal access and freedom to get the care that they need."
She added, "But maybe the most important thing this bill will do is it will end our reliance on the courts to protect people for the medical care that they need and deserve."
Democrats are concerned that other states could follow in the footsteps of Texas, whose law, Senate Bill 8, bans abortions in the state as early as six weeks of pregnancy, before most women know they are even pregnant. The law allows anyone, even someone outside of Texas, to sue an abortion provider or anyone else who helped someone get an abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected for at least $10,000 per defendant.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in a Mississippi abortion case in early December. The high court is expected to consider the legality of Mississippi's ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, a law that is intended to challenge the court's landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision protecting a woman’s right to an abortion.
In the Senate, Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said he plans to hold a hearing about Texas’ strict new abortion law and the Supreme Court's decisions on that and other issues that it made on an emergency basis.