WASHINGTON — A boom in state laws restricting and regulating abortion over the past three years has some abortion advocates quietly building support to overturn all of them, with federal legislation far more sweeping than the original Roe v. Wade decision.
Since its first introduction by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., the abortion-deregulation bill called the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA) has gained 34 co-sponsors in the Senate and 116 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives — all of them Democrats.
The proposed law (S. 1696) involves such sweeping deregulation of the abortion industry that pro-life advocates dubbed it the “Gosnell Prerogative Act,” referring to abortionist and convicted murderer Kermit Gosnell, who ran a filth-ridden facility in Philadelphia for years because state officials, concerned with abortion politics, turned a blind eye.
“It is not just an attempt to codify Roe v. Wade, but it actually is much worse than current Supreme Court doctrines,” said Mary Harned, staff counsel with Americans United for Life. Instead, she said the bill would “invalidate” nearly all of the pro-life legislation enacted so far under existing court precedents.
The bill’s summary makes clear that state and local governments would be forbidden by federal law from regulating the abortion industry with laws requiring that abortion facilities comply with codes for ambulatory surgical centers, that abortionists have hospital admitting privileges and that only licensed physicians perform abortions. It would also forbid abortion bans based on fetal pain, late term or the type of abortion procedure used, as well as overturn mandatory waiting periods, informed-consent laws and restrictions on telemedicine abortions. It also “requires courts to liberally construe the provisions of this act” to make its application as broad as possible, Harned said.
“They see this bill as a way to ensure that stronger pro-life legislation won’t be enacted in the states if and when Roe v. Wade is overturned,” Harned said, referring to the 1973 Supreme Court decision that declared abortion a constitutional right. “They want to build support for a federal law that would invalidate any [pro-life] state laws that conflict with this.”
Abortion Lobby’s ‘Flagship Bill’
But the WHPA goes far beyond the scope of Roe v. Wade, according to Richard Doerflinger, associate director for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, who called it “the pro-abortion agenda on steroids” for seeking to overturn a myriad of laws upheld under Roe.
“This bill is based on the assumption that one million abortions a year is far too few,” he said. “To say the least, I would call this a minority position in the United States.”
He added that the bill “demands that the killing of the unborn be treated as basic medical care” and gives the unborn child “the legal status of a tumor.”
Doerflinger said the proposed law is a “flagship bill,” which indicates where the political abortion movement wants to take the country once proponents have enough votes behind them in Congress.
Oklahoma state Rep. Rebecca Hamilton, D-Oklahoma City, is a pro-lifer who noted on her blog, Public Catholic, that Blumenthal’s bill gives “an ironic lie to the old pro-abortion claim that they want abortion to be safe, legal and rare” by creating a federal law to shut down abortion regulation in all 50 states.
“The bill is doomed” on the basis that it does not yet have the votes to make it out of the Democrat-controlled Senate, let alone the Republican-controlled House, she said. “It just means that it’s an idea whose votes have not yet been elected to power.”
Shifting Political Tides
The pro-life Democrat pointed out that “power goes back and forth in this country,” and the gains pro-life advocates have made so far are threatened by the pro-life movement’s dependence on the Republican Party’s ability to remain in power.
Democrats took over the House, Senate and presidency in 2008, in a wave of voter anger at Republicans over President George W. Bush’s handling of the economy and weariness over the Iraq War. The Democrats exploited this window of political dominance to pass President Barack Obama’s signature health-care reform legislation with the inclusion of a mandate to make contraceptives, including abortifacient drugs, available in health-insurance plans. Voters subsequently reversed course and handed control of the House to Republicans in a subsequent wave of anger over the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare.
Hamilton said that unless pro-life advocates embrace a long-view strategy to “convert the Democratic Party” to the pro-life cause, they are looking at a situation where “we can delay passage of S. 1696 but we can’t stop it.”
“The fact that it will, in time — years in the future, but it will — become law is a direct result of this silo approach to the pro-life issue,” she warned.
In fact, Hamilton suggested taking over the Democratic political apparatus is possible if pro-life advocates show up in force at precinct meetings, which typically see “scant attendance.”
“It has been done before,” she said.
The bill is a long way off from a floor vote in the Senate and the House. But the precarious political divide of abortion politics along largely Republican and Democratic poles at the national level (and in many states) is a major factor in why pro-life advocates say Blumenthal’s federal abortion-expansion bill should not be ignored.
Harned said that, right now, the bill is “too extreme” even for many lawmakers who identify as “pro-choice.” But she believes supporters are trying to “covertly” build support in order to achieve some, and eventually all, of their goals of deregulating abortion. She said it is important to block the bill from even coming to a floor vote and gaining further momentum.
Said Harned, “We can’t rest on our laurels. All it takes is a political shift in this country.”
Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff writer.