House Passes Two Bills Seeking to Ensure Access to Abortion

WASHINGTON — The House on Friday passed two bills aiming at ensuring access to abortion in the post-Roe era, as Democrats seek to draw clear distinctions with Republicans on the issue heading into the midterm election campaign.

One measure, which passed mainly along party lines, 222 to 205, would protect the right to travel across state lines for abortion services, with three Republicans joining Democrats in support of the measure.

A second measure, a version of which passed the House last year, would explicitly give health care providers the right to provide abortion services and their patients the right to obtain them, invalidating a variety of state restrictions that were enacted in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision reversing Roe v. Wade and ending the constitutional right to abortion. That second measure, the Women’s Health Protection Act, passed 219 to 210, also mainly along party lines, with one Democrat, Representative Henry Cuellar of Texas, voting with Republicans.

Neither bill has the votes to advance in the Senate. But Democrats cheered as the bills passed, putting both sides on record heading into the midterms on an issue that has only grown more divisive politically.

“Liberty and justice and freedom are under assault right now because of a radical, right-wing, illegitimate Supreme Court majority and their extreme co-conspirators in the House of Representatives,” Representative Hakeem Jeffries, Democrat of New York, said on the House floor. “We will always defend these freedoms.”

Representative Anna Eshoo, Democrat of California, said the Supreme Court’s “devastating” decision to overturn Roe “has created a patchwork of states with differing laws and restrictions causing societal chaos and confusion.”

She added, “It’s a hunt down of women.”

Representative Diana Harshbarger, Republican of Tennessee, dismissed the legislation as a “deceptive ploy to circumvent the authority of states to set their own laws about abortion procedures.”

The action pushes the debate into the campaign, where both parties are hoping to motivate voters by framing the election around one of the country’s most long-running cultural divides.

Polling suggests that support for abortion has risen as states have enacted laws restricting abortion, and Democrats hope they can use that to motivate voters to elect officials who will enshrine abortion access into law.

“We need two more Democratic pro-choice senators so we can eliminate the filibuster and make this legislation the law of the land,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday on the House floor.

“We offer hope to the American people who treasure our freedoms and who are overwhelmingly with us in our mission to defend them,” Ms. Pelosi added. “What do Republicans have in store next? You can’t travel to buy a book? You can’t travel to see a concert or a play?”

Democrats are also reacting to a groundswell of pressure from progressives in their ranks who were outraged by the Supreme Court ruling last month and by the slow response from their leaders to an opinion that had been expected for weeks.

Republicans hope to win a long-term struggle to change public perceptions about abortion. And they have been trying to paint the Democratic measures as “radical” proposals that would allow late-term abortions on demand.

In reality, the Democratic bill allows abortions after viability only in circumstances when a doctor determines that the continuation of the pregnancy would pose a risk to the patient’s life or health.

“Both sides are guilty of dismissing one another,” said Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Republican of Washington, dismissing the Women’s Health Protection Act as an “abortion on demand” bill.

“Science has evolved. It is my hope that we learn from this and we reject abortion; it is unthinkable,” she said.

While Democrats have been pushing votes that will force Republicans to show where they stand on abortion care and portray them as out of step with a majority of Americans, Republican lawmakers have embraced the debate, even proposing legislation that would federalize some of the strictest anti-abortion laws passed in states like Texas.

On Wednesday, the Republican Study Committee, the biggest caucus in Congress, endorsed the Heartbeat Protection Act, a bill that would ban abortions after a heartbeat is detected. That can be as early as six weeks, before many women even know they are pregnant. The measure, opponents say, would amount to an outright ban on abortion.

Republican-led state legislatures have also pushed forward plans that would allow private citizens to sue anyone who helped a resident of a state where abortion is banned from seeking an abortion in a state where it remains legal.

Representative Lizzie Fletcher, Democrat of Texas, said her bill prohibiting states from enacting or enforcing laws restricting travel to obtain an abortion was consistent with the constitutional right to interstate travel.

But Republicans blasted the bill as “part of an extreme agenda” to allow abortions without restrictions.

“It would prevent health care professionals from reporting instances of child abuse, sexual abuse and neglect because they could be seen as delaying or hindering access to abortion,” Ms. McMorris Rodgers said.

The Senate, however, remains the main blockade to any legislative efforts to codify Roe v. Wade into law, or even the narrower measure to protect the rights to travel to states where abortion is still legal.

All but two of the Senate’s Republicans oppose abortion rights, leaving little hope that any bill could move forward. With one Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, also opposed, there is no realistic path for the legislation to win the 60 votes necessary to clear the Senate.

Senate Democrats tried and failed in May to take up the Women’s Health Protection Act. But Republicans and Mr. Manchin opposed it, blocking a debate and leaving the measure short of even a simple majority.

On Thursday, Senate Republicans blocked Democrats from taking up a Democratic bill to protect a woman’s right to travel across state lines to procure abortion care.

“Does that child in the womb have the right to travel in their future?” Senator James Lankford, Republican of Oklahoma, said. “Do they get to live?” He added, “There’s a child in this conversation as well.”

Still, many Democratic lawmakers focused their anger on Friday on the Supreme Court rather than on their Republican colleagues. Representative Madeleine Dean, Democrat of Pennsylvania, said that Republicans had “fixed” the Supreme Court, “with a few justices seated by an autocratic president.” She added, “They behave as theocrats.”

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