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Reproductive rights activists hold placards and chant outside of the U.S. Supreme Court ahead of a ruling on abortion clinic restrictions on June 27, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Reproductive rights activists hold placards and chant outside of the U.S. Supreme Court ahead of a ruling on abortion clinic restrictions on June 27, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

National Laws Needed, Say Defenders of Women, After SCOTUS Attack on Roe

"Democrats have the power right now to do something about the Texas abortion ban, and every other far-right power grab," said one observer. "They are not helpless bystanders."

Julia Conley

Amid the fear and outrage caused by the U.S. Supreme Court's refusal to block Texas' extreme anti-choice law Tuesday night, legal experts and rights advocates urged lawmakers to focus on what can be done to protect reproductive rights across the country, particularly the passage of the Women's Health Protection Act. 

The Supreme Court could still act to suspend the law, but advocates including Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said the inaction displayed on Tuesday showed the nine justices—five of whom were appointed by Republican presidents who lost the popular vote—"cannot be trusted to protect the constitutional right to choose."
 
"It is up to Congress to pass the Women's Health Protection Act to end this assault on reproductive freedom once and for all," said DeLauro. 
 

"It is up to Congress to pass the Women's Health Protection Act to end this assault on reproductive freedom once and for all."
—Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.)

The legislation was reintroduced in June by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) in the Senate and Reps. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Lois Frankel (D-Fla.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) in the House, and would protect the right to abortion care at the federal level in the event that the Supreme Court fails to protect Roe vs. Wade.

Without federal legislation protecting reproductive rights, states including Georgia, Ohio, and Texas have been able to pass increasingly extreme anti-choice laws in recent years. 
 
Senate Bill 8 in Texas, which went into effect just after midnight on Wednesday due to the high court's inaction, bans abortion care after six weeks of pregnancy—before most women know they are pregnant—and empowers any private citizen to file a legal challenge against anyone who helps a patient to obtain an abortion.
 
Texas' Republican-led legislature's assault on women's rights "won't stop with Texas," said abortion justice group All Above All.
 
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) posted a video from one of the 2020 Democratic presidential debates in which she called for a "congressional solution" to ensure women have the right to obtain abortions.
 
Along with the need to federally protect voting rights as Republican legislatures across the country pass dozens of voter suppression laws and to pass legislation to make it easier for workers to organize, protecting abortion rights is now another Democratic priority that advocates said the party must act on by first eliminating the filibuster. 
 
"The right to an abortion is non-negotiable," said Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who is running for Senate. "It's obvious that we can't rely on the Supreme Court to protect Roe, and that Democrats in Washington must act."

Democrats in Congress, Fetterman added, "should vote like Democrats and scrap the filibuster and pass the Women's Health Protection Act immediately."

According to the Brookings Institution, the Democratic-led Senate could ban the filibuster—which requires 60 votes for legislation to pass rather than a simple majority—by creating a new Senate precedent:

The chamber's precedents exist alongside its formal rules to provide additional insight into how and when its rules have been applied in particular ways. Importantly, this approach to curtailing the filibuster—colloquially known as the "nuclear option" and more formally as "reform by ruling"—can, in certain circumstances, be employed with support from only a simple majority of senators.

In a tweet on Wednesday, Harvard Law School professor Niko Bowie noted that Biden, during his 2020 campaign, vowed to work to make sure the protections of Roe would be codified through legislation:

The president released a statement Wednesday afternoon saying his administration "is deeply committed to the constitutional right established in Roe vs. Wade five decades ago and will protect and defend that right"—but advocates called on Democratic leaders to commit to specific steps they'll take to protect abortion rights, including filibuster reform and expanding the Supreme Court, and to take swift action. 

"Democrats have the power right now to do something about the Texas abortion ban, and every other far-right power grab," said Jack Mirkinson, editor of Discourse Blog. "They are not helpless bystanders."

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