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Abortion politics: Warning of ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ versus a $41 million budget

House hearing examines restrictive state laws as anti-abortion group promises major 2020 push

Rep. Ben Cline, R-Va., described his home state of Virginia as “ground zero in the fight over late-term abortions.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Ben Cline, R-Va., described his home state of Virginia as “ground zero in the fight over late-term abortions.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Laws passed by Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana, which conservatives hope will spur the Supreme Court to reverse the nationwide guarantee of a right to abortion, were the focus of heated partisan debate at a House hearing Tuesday.

Democrats on the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties said the laws place an undue burden on women seeking abortion, while Republicans said they are about protecting life.

“It’s hard for me to believe that this is a congressional hearing in 2019. It feels like a scene out of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’” said Maryland Democrat Jamie Raskin, referring to the dystopian novel and TV series.

GOP Rep. Ben Cline countered that the abortion legislation that he believes is extreme is coming from liberal states that are expanding access to abortion later in pregnancy.

Cline called his own state, Virginia, “ground zero in the fight over late-term abortions,” referring to a debate earlier this year to loosen restrictions on third-trimester abortions.

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Yashica Robinson, the medical director for Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives, testified that later-stage abortions are far less common than those earlier in pregnancy.

“It’s important to keep in mind that the majority of abortions take place early in the first trimester,” she said. “I know as a physician that it is really important that women have access to the care they need, regardless of the point they are in their pregnancy.”

2020 on their minds

Meanwhile, abortion opponents believe a Supreme Court bolstered by President Donald Trump’s appointees presents the best chance in decades to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

Susan B. Anthony List, one of the most powerful and politically connected anti-abortion groups, revealed at its annual fundraising gala Monday night it would spend $41 million to tout its agenda during the 2020 campaign.

The group’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, chaired the Pro-Life Coalition for Trump’s 2016 campaign. She said the spending for next year’s elections could be considered its “most ambitious pro-life legislative agenda” priority.

That funding will be used to try to maintain the Senate majority, re-elect Trump and increase the group’s footprint in the House.

The group also wants to renew its focus on legislation to ban abortion at and after 20 weeks of pregnancy, at the state and federal level.

In addition, the group wants the Supreme Court to overturn a 2016 court case — Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt — which struck down a Texas hospital admitting privileges law. A similar Louisiana law was appealed to the Supreme Court this year.

The anti-abortion advocates also hope to help pass laws that prevent using a disability diagnosis as the reason for abortion. The Supreme Court refused to weigh in on a similar law last week, but Justice Clarence Thomas said it could be revisited later.

The fundraiser, which was attended by at least 20 members of Congress, including the heads of both chambers’ Pro-Life caucuses, also commended Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for successfully helping to confirm dozens of conservative judges.

“About one in five of the Courts of Appeals judges nationwide have now been appointed by this president and confirmed by this Senate in two and a half years,” the Kentucky Republican said at the event. “And I want you to know that my view is, there will be no vacancies left behind. None.”

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