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Senate Abortion Rights Backers Want to Pre-empt State Laws

Abortion rights activists demonstrated in front of the Supreme Court in January. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Abortion rights activists demonstrated in front of the Supreme Court in January. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Democrats are planning the next round in the decades-old exchange over abortion politics Wednesday.

A group of Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate, led by Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut on the Senate side, are calling an afternoon news conference to roll out a new measure that would effectively pre-empt state laws requiring medically unnecessary tests before receiving reproductive health services, including the morning-after pill and abortions.

“This kind of measure seems to provide a clear and certain response to these regulations and [state] laws that impose unnecessary tests, procedures … and other kinds of restrictions on these reproductive services,” Blumenthal said, calling the influx of new state laws a “cascading wave of restrictions.”

Blumenthal will be joined by Sens. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Barbara Boxer of California, as well as Reps. Judy Chu of California, Marcia L. Fudge of Ohio and Lois Frankel of Florida. That group will be accompanied by several abortion rights advocacy representatives.

According to a summary of the measure obtained by CQ Roll Call, it would set markers for federal courts reviewing state laws that may take effect in the future, as could be the case when conservative majorities take control of state Capitols.

Factors for judges to consider in those circumstances include: “whether the measure or action is reasonably likely to result in a decrease in the availability of abortion services in the state.”

The bill is a direct response to efforts in several states to establish new rules for accessing abortions, including the ultrasound laws in several states. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court declined to take up a case out of Oklahoma about an ultrasound requirement in that state. That’s one of several similar cases that the court could hear.

“These laws should be challenged in court because they are largely unconstitutional, but some measure of certainty and clarity are required to — to ban these regulations and laws so that women are not chilled and deterred in their very personal decisions,” Blumenthal said.

During a brief interview, Blumenthal suggested that supporters may want to see votes on the social policy issue in advance of the midterm elections next year.

“As the election approaches, I think the voters are going to want to know where legislators stand on these issues,” he said. “The Women’s Health Protection Act, guaranteeing reproductive rights, hopefully will attract increasing support.”

Abortion foes may also seek votes on their favored proposals, of course. Last week, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., filed legislation of his own, leading a GOP-backed effort to prohibit abortions past 20 weeks into a pregnancy.

“The question for the American people is, ‘Should we be silent when it comes to protecting these unborn children entering the sixth month of pregnancy? Or is it incumbent on us to speak up and act on their behalf?'” Graham said announcing his effort. “I say we must speak up and act.”

Graham’s proposal passed the GOP-led House earlier this year with 228 votes in support.

Several Senate Democrats took to the floor to rebut Graham just as he was getting set to hold a news conference unveiling that measure, saying no such proposal would come before the Senate on their watch. That group included Democrats Patty Murray of Washington, as well as Boxer and Blumenthal.

“We are here today to make one thing abundantly clear: and that is that this extreme, unconstitutional abortion ban is an absolute non-starter. It’s going nowhere in the Senate and Republicans know it,” Murray said of Graham’s bill.

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