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Pro-choice supporters gathered outside of the U.S. Supreme Court before the Senate confirmed President Donald Trump's U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett on October 26, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

Highlighting Why Congress Must Codify Roe, OK Gov. Holds Ceremony for New Anti-Choice Laws

"We urgently need Congress to pass a federal law to protect abortion access nationwide: The Women's Health Protection Act."

Jessica Corbett

With all eyes on Texas Thursday as the U.S. Justice Department sued the Lone Star State over its new abortion ban, Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt held a ceremonial bill signing for nine so-called "pro-life" measures he approved during this year's legislative session—highlighting the need for Congress to protect reproductive rights at the federal level.

Stitt, who was flanked by anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser and GOP state lawmakers for the event, said that "I promised Oklahomans I would sign every piece of pro-life legislation that came across my desk and I am proud to keep that promise."

The ceremony came as Republicans in states including Oklahoma are trying to replicate Texas' recently enacted ban, which not only outlaws abortion at six weeks but also empowers anti-choice vigilantes to enforce it. The U.S. Supreme Court allowed the Texas law to take effect last week, heightening concerns about how the six right-wing justices will rule on an upcoming case that could overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision affirming abortion rights.

"This is a nationwide crisis that requires a nationwide solution, and Congress must also do its part," Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the nearly 100-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Thursday.

"That's why we are looking forward to passing the Women's Health Protection Act out of the House of Representatives this month, and why we're calling on the Senate to abolish the filibuster so we can send this urgent bill to the president's desk," she added. "That is how we finally codify the right to abortion in federal law, outlaw attacks on access, and protect healthcare for millions."

Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced the Women's Health Protection Act (WHPA) in June. The bill (H.R. 3755/S. 1975) now has 205 additional sponsors in the House and 47 in the Senate. In response to the Texas law, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced the House would vote on the legislation when it returns from recess later this month.

However, even if the House passes the WHPA, and Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) join fellow Democrats in supporting it, Senate rules enable the GOP to block most progressive legislation. Texas' new anti-choice law has elevated calls for Senate Democrats to end the filibuster, but right-wingers in the party including Manchin are standing in the way of that.

Meanwhile, at the state level, Republicans have ramped up attacks on reproductive rights this year, and campaigners continue to sound alarm about current and looming restrictions on healthcare in GOP-controlled states.

In Oklahoma, advocacy groups filed suit to stop five anti-choice laws that Stitt celebrated Thursday, which are set to take effect November 1.

"Oklahoma politicians wasted no time attacking access to abortion this year," said Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement announcing the suit. "Instead of focusing on ways to improve and expand access to healthcare services during a global pandemic, they passed laws designed to make abortion nearly impossible to get in the state. And to that we say: we'll see you in court."

The five laws are:

  • House Bill 1102, which says that any medical professional who performs an abortion not necessary to save a patient's life or "prevent substantial or irreversible physical impairment" is engaging in "unprofessional conduct";
  • House Bill 1904, which requires abortion providers to be certified obstetricians and gynecologists, a policy critics warn will unnecessarily limit the medical professionals who can serve patients;
  • House Bill 2441, which bans abortions around six week, after "a detectable fetal heartbeat," language that experts condemn as inaccurate and misleading; and
  • Senate Bill 778 and Senate Bill 779, which increase restrictions on medication abortions.

"If allowed to take effect, these laws would end abortion access in Oklahoma, forcing patients to travel great distances and cross state lines to get essential healthcare," warned Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR). "It’s unbelievable that in the midst of a global pandemic, Oklahoma's lawmakers would have people drive hundreds of miles to access abortion services."

The other laws that Stitt highlighted at the ceremony include Senate Bill 960, which extends the period of time a child can be turned over to a rescuer from seven to 30 days and directs the state to award grants for "Baby Box" installations; Senate Bill 647, which requires medical facilities to keep a written policy allowing the family to direct the disposition of remains in the event of stillbirth or miscarriage; and Senate Bill 584, which prohibits fetal trafficking.

The final bill the governor celebrated is Senate Bill 918, which is set to take effect on November 1 and would restore Oklahoma's prohibition on abortion if Roe falls. According to the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute, 11 other states have similar "trigger" laws.

CRR has an online tool detailing what experts expect to happen in each U.S. state and territory if the nation's highest court guts Roe. It is also among the groups taking on a Mississippi abortion ban—the Roe case the Supreme Court is set to hear in its next session—and was also involved in a challenge to Tennessee restrictions that were blocked Friday by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

In a statement about Tennessee, CRR staff attorney Rabia Muqaddam said that "while we are relieved that the court has reinstated a full block on these abortion bans, we must remain vigilant. With a case that could overturn Roe v. Wade before the Supreme Court, Congress must act swiftly to protect abortion access and declare abortion bans like these illegal by passing the Women's Health Protection Act."

As the GOP has increased its attacks on abortion rights this year in hopes of enabling the right-wing justices to reverse the 1973 decision, reproductive justice campaigners have also urged policymakers to #ReimagineRoe and treat the decades-old ruling as a floor rather than a ceiling for rights and healthcare.

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