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Senate panel airs fallout from Supreme Court abortion decision

Democrats describe 'chaos' of legal decisions and state laws in the aftermath of last year's ruling that reversed Roe v. Wade

Ranking member Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., left, and Chairman Richard Durbin, D-Ill., at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last month.
Ranking member Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., left, and Chairman Richard Durbin, D-Ill., at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last month. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate Judiciary Committee dove into the partisan divide on abortion policy Wednesday in the aftermath of last year’s Supreme Court decision that overturned a constitutional right to an abortion.

Committee Chair Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., framed the patchwork of legal decisions and state legislation on abortion as “chaos” in the wake of the June decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

“Lives have been disrupted, lifesaving health care has been declared illegal, and women have been denied their fundamental liberties,” Durbin said.

Amanda Zurawski, one of the Democratic witnesses, testified about her own near-death experience in a Texas hospital after suffering complications that were fatal to her unborn daughter, Willow. Zurawski said she had to wait for days to enter septic shock before her doctors would treat her.

“It meant that even though we would, with complete certainty, lose Willow, my doctors didn’t feel safe enough to intervene as long as her heart was beating or until I was sick enough for the ethics board at the hospital to consider my life at risk,” Zurawski said.

Zurawski said she felt trapped by Texas’ law, which bans abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. She said she lived an eight-hour drive from the nearest “sanctuary” state and going into shock on the way would be a death sentence.

Democrats on the panel framed Zurawski’s experience as the preferred outcome for Republicans since the conservative Supreme Court in the Dobbs case wiped out landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that first established the right to abortion.

Ongoing challenges

Wednesday’s hearing comes days after a Supreme Court ruling allowing the common medication abortion drug mifepristone to remain on the market while a challenge to its availability plays out in the lower courts.

That case rocketed to the Supreme Court after a ruling from Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas would wipe out the drug’s 23-year-old approval by the Food and Drug Administration.

Referring to that abortion drug case, Durbin argued that conservative lawmakers and judges have taken steps to further their “their ultimate goal is clear, total ban on abortion nationwide.”

“So instead of ending the debate on abortion, Dobbs was really the beginning of a different debate,” Durbin said. “How far will the war on women’s health go before we say, enough is enough?”

Last Congress, Senate Democrats sought a vote on a bill from Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., that would have codified the ruling in Roe v. Wade. That bill fell short on a procedural floor vote last May. Baldwin reintroduced the measure in March.

Republican views

During Wednesday’s hearing the ranking member of the panel, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., accused Democrats of the “barbaric” position of “basically declaring war on the unborn,” by trying to codify the right to an abortion.

“China, North Korea, Iran and a few other nations, allow abortion on demand up to the moment of birth, and your bill would put us in that category,” Graham said.

Graham proposed a bill to create a national 15-week abortion ban after the Dobbs decision last year and said he would reintroduce the measure this Congress.

Republican witnesses downplayed the negative consequences of laws in Texas and other states, arguing that abortions have significant risks that the media have ignored.

Ingrid Skop, an OB-GYN at the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Texas, the research arm of the conservative Susan B. Anthony list, argued that abortion care opened vulnerable people up to manipulation and coercion to end the life of an otherwise desired child.

“Every successful abortion ends the life of one of my patients and often harms the other as well,” Skop said.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., said abortion was an “emotional and divisive issue” that Congress would not likely address anytime soon. He referred to the number of votes it would take to overcome a procedural hurdle and get to a floor vote on such a bill.

“I can pretty much guarantee that post Roe vs. Wade, now that that issue is back in the hands of the state legislatures, it’s highly unlikely there will be a federal abortion standard,” Cornyn said. “It requires 60 votes in the United States Senate.”

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