Senate Democrats and the Biden administration are scrambling for ways to protect access to abortion as states begin taking action to block the procedures before the Supreme Court releases a decision expected to reverse the 50-year-old legal precedent set by Roe vs. Wade.
While the Supreme Court has not yet released a ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a leaked draft of the decision has spurred lawmakers and officials on both sides of the debate to act before the decision is released. The Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision in the case by the end of the term at the end of June.
On Thursday, Oklahoma lawmakers raced to pass legislation to ban abortion after the point of fertilization, with limited exceptions. The ban would go into effect as soon as it is signed, and would be enforceable through citizen lawsuits similar to a Texas law that went into effect in 2021.
That bill follows two similar laws enacted this year in Oklahoma: a ban on abortion after six weeks with a similar enforcement mechanism, and a law making providing an abortion a felony that would go into effect in August.
Emily Wales, CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said her organization has already begun talking to patients about how to access abortion services in neighboring states like Kansas, New Mexico and Colorado. She said the impact is compounded by the fact that Oklahoma had been the best point of access in recent months for Texans seeking reproductive care.
“This is a devastating move, and our team is already fielding calls from patients who are very much confused about the state of their rights,” said Wales during a call with reporters Thursday.
Rabia Muqaddam, senior staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said a challenge to the Oklahoma law will be added to a lawsuit against the six-week ban.
“The reason we've litigated in state courts in Oklahoma is because we've long had success there," Muqaddam said. "And we hope to continue to have success there under the state constitution. It is essential that states where possible step up and determine that under their own constitutions, the right to abortion is protected."
The center is also the challenger to the Mississippi 15-week ban in the Dobbs case.
Nationally, Democrats are echoing worries about how to protect access as quickly as possible.
Vice President Kamala Harris met virtually with abortion providers Thursday afternoon, acknowledging the Oklahoma legislation in opening remarks.
Harris met with two practicing obstetrician-gynecologists, Rebecca Taub and Bhavik Kumar; the chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood, Colleen McNicholas; and the founder and director of All Families Healthcare, Helen Weems.
“This, when and if it happens, will be an extreme step backwards,” Harris said of the anticipated Supreme Court decision. She called the Oklahoma bill "the latest in a series of extreme laws around the country.”
Senate Democrats, including Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., called on the administration Thursday to put forward a national plan on how to protect abortion rights before the Supreme Court’s decision. The Senate last week fell short of passing legislation that Democrats said would guarantee national protections for abortion access and the ability of providers to perform them.
“Republicans can’t run from this issue. We’re going to get organized and we’re going to win at the ballot box,” he said. “Last week’s vote was only one step – not the end – of the fight for women.”
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., said that Democrats have asked HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra for a plan but recognize they are limited in what can be done federally.
But Murray rejected the idea that Democrats would support a watered-down version of the Democrats’ bill, such as legislation from Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, that would mirror current law that allows some state abortion bans to stand.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said she will introduce legislation this week that would provide funding for abortion providers to enhance the physical and cyber security for their facilities, personnel and patients.
And Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., led a letter this week signed by 14 Democratic senators to two data brokers criticizing them for collecting and selling cellphone location data of women visiting abortion clinics.
“Left unchecked, these practices would allow anyone with a credit card to buy the location data of a woman seeking abortion services including crossing state lines and then to use that information potentially to target them,” she said. “These practices are dangerous.”