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House Democrats, Republicans clash over Texas abortion law

Both sides mostly stick to partisan talking points at Judiciary hearing

Minnesota Rep. Michelle Fischbach was among the Republicans defending the Texas abortion law at Thursday’s House Judiciary hearing.
Minnesota Rep. Michelle Fischbach was among the Republicans defending the Texas abortion law at Thursday’s House Judiciary hearing. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Questions about the role of government in abortion policy arose during a House hearing Thursday, days after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments challenging a Texas abortion law.

The Supreme Court heard arguments Monday over challenges to a Texas law that bans almost all abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape or incest. The law also incentivizes private citizens to sue any individual who aids in an abortion after that point, offering a minimum of $10,000 in a successful suit.

Two committees — House Oversight and Reform and Senate Judiciary — held hearings about the law in September. 

Democrats have criticized the unusual nature of the law and argued that it violates precedent under the 1973 case Roe v. Wade, which established a right to abortion nationwide, and the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which bars restrictions that result in an “undue burden” for the woman before the fetus is viable.

“This law created a perfect storm in Texas, which already had some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, because of the way it was written and because of its enforcement method,” said House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. “Pregnant people in Texas may now be reluctant to confide in once-trusted neighbors, co-workers, or friends, or to seek help from organizations and advocates if they have questions. Providers have expressed confusion and concern about how to advise their patients and where to seek care for pregnancy complications.”

But Republicans have defended the law’s success in preventing abortions since it was implemented Sept. 1.

“I am just a bit curious what the purpose of today’s hearing is. We’re talking about a state law that is currently under review by the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court will decide if the law is unconstitutional and only the Supreme Court, not the House Judiciary Committee,” said Minnesota Rep. Michelle Fischbach, who during her questioning held up in her fingers a small plastic model she said represented a 10-week-old fetus.

Law’s effects

Both parties mostly stuck to partisan talking points on the law. The number of lawmakers who buck their party’s stance on abortion policy has diminished in recent years.

Republicans defended the Texas law, saying it protected life, and criticized other state policies that allow abortions later into pregnancy. They also criticized attempts by Democrats to remove abortion funding restrictions, known as the Hyde amendment, from future appropriations bills.

Democrats pushed back on the Texas law and other state abortion restrictions that they say unfairly target racial minorities and those in economically disadvantaged communities, who may be less able to travel out of state to seek an abortion.

Khiara M. Bridges, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, testified that the law has led many individuals to travel out of the state to seek abortion services but that the greatest burden is on some of the most marginalized Texans.

“Essentially, abortion restrictions do not have race-neutral effects,” she said, adding that Black individuals typically are more likely to seek an abortion.

Nadler asked Bridges to explain why abortion should not be equated with eugenics. Some abortion opponents have argued that abortion can be used as a form of eugenics when based on sex, race or disability status.

“Eugenics is about state control of reproductive decisions,” Bridges said. “The comparison to eugenics is that abortion today is eugenics. In fact, abortion restrictions today are comparable to eugenics inasmuch as abortion restrictions consist of the state determining what people will or will not do with their reproductive lives.”

The Texas law incentivizes taking anyone who aids in a banned abortion to court, and Ghazaleh Moayedi, an OB-GYN who serves on the boards of Physicians for Reproductive Health and the Texas Equal Access Fund, told Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee that she already experiences harassment as a provider.

“I don’t have to imagine what it’s like to have violent people stalking me, because that is actually my life every single day as an abortion provider in Texas. I am followed into my job. I am screamed at. My child is screamed at by people that purport to love children. I get hate messages and death threats to my home simply for caring for my community,” she said. “It’s very disturbing for me personally to hear people claim to be pro-life while they actively threaten my life and my child’s life.”

Catherine Glenn Foster, president and CEO for Americans United for Life, spoke to California Republican Darrell Issa about abortions that are conducted later in pregnancy.

“There is nothing more tragic than abortion killing when a child can already definitely survive. There is no medical basis for killing a child at 22 weeks or later. Absolutely none. And you don’t need to be a doctor to make that decision or judgment. You just need to be a human being,” she said.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, who spoke immediately after, criticized this questioning, arguing the Texas law bans abortions at about six weeks.

The New York Democrat asked Foster if she supported the Texas law, despite not having exceptions for rape and incest. 

“When we are talking about rape, it is a horrible tragedy. Period. There are no ifs, ands or buts about that, and we need to rid the world of those kinds of actions,” she said. “But nowhere in our justice system is there ever a time where the innocent has to pay for the crime of another.”

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