On the morning of Friday, June 24, 2022, over half of the population of the United States was stripped of a fundamental constitutional right. And, within minutes, the reverberations of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade was felt by patients in states across the country. Clinics in states such as Alabama and Texas had to immediately close their doors, turning away patients who woke up that day with no autonomy over their own bodies, and were told they were too late to get the abortion care they were seeking.
The news was flooded in the days after with images like a couple banging on clinic doors begging to be let inside to get the abortion they had booked for that morning. There were women breaking down, sobbing in waiting rooms, and providers fearful that the procedure they had just performed was now considered a crime in their state.
As soon as I heard the news, my mind immediately went to the story of the mother of four from Houston, Texas, who drove over 1,500 miles overnight to my district in Pasadena, California, to receive an abortion. She brought her husband and her four young children, and the whole family traveled together, sleeping in their car overnight, because Texas’s six-week abortion ban was already in effect, preventing this mother from making the decision she knew was the best one for her family. I also thought of another Texas woman, 26-year-old Lizelle Herrera, who made national headlines earlier this year when she was jailed and charged with murder after a self-induced abortion. Then I thought of all the women in my home state of California who still had access to safe and legal abortion, and that the only thing separating them from those who no longer have access is simply their zip code.
So, it is now more imperative than ever we fight back to protect the freedoms to make our own decisions about our bodies, alongside trusted health care providers, and not under the microscope or direction of politicians.
Most recently, national news outlets carried the shocking news of a 10-year-old girl in Ohio, who under their current law, was being forced to carry a child after being raped because she was more than six weeks pregnant. The age of consent in Ohio is 16 and it is a state with zero exceptions to abortion. To force the trauma of this pregnancy and birth upon a child is shameful and egregious, and even more appalling are Ohio elected officials calling such pregnancies “an opportunity” to save a life. But the tragic truth is, this little girl will not be the last forced to give birth against her will.
We knew a decision like this was coming. In May, POLITICO reported a leaked draft opinion that outlined the upcoming decision to strike down the constitutional right to an abortion. However, the stance of the opinion was not a surprise, and neither was the final ruling, because this has been the goal of anti-abortion extremists for decades. Since 2012, more than 500 laws restricting access to abortion care were introduced in state legislatures across the country. These laws make it harder or impossible for patients to access abortion services by forcing providers to give medically inaccurate or misleading information to their patients, requiring patients to undergo medically unnecessary and sometimes invasive procedures, and even to ban abortion completely. The simple fact is that even before the Supreme Court acted, the right to abortion was already eroded in many parts of our country.
And, because of the Court’s decision, it is likely we will see an uptick in lives lost. We will see women who are unable to access care because the remedy for ectopic pregnancy is an abortion procedure; women who contemplate suicide or other forms of self-harm because they feel there is no other option; survivors of rape who are forced to carry their rapist’s child; patients who become victims of domestic abuse by partners who do not want to bring a child into this world; young girls whose lives are upended and futures now unpredictable because of an unplanned pregnancy; stigma and ostracization in the LGBTQ + population, who are often forgotten when talking about the pregnant population. And the list goes on.
One in four American women will have an abortion at some point during their lifetime. Nearly sixty percent of abortion patients already have at least one child and understand the incredible burden and responsibility that comes with becoming a parent. This is not an uncommon procedure. The chances are extremely high you know someone who has had an abortion. When done correctly and in the care of a trained medical professional, the procedure is safe and simple, and gives women the agency to make decisions about their bodies.
I first introduced the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA) in 2013 when we saw these state-level attempts to erode Roe proliferating around the country. WHPA establishes a federal right for patients to receive, and providers to provide, abortion care, free from medically unnecessary restrictions like waiting periods, ultrasound requirements, or requirements that the doors in the clinic be a certain width. WHPA would protect abortion rights in every state, even after the Supreme Court’s decision. Each Congress since, I have reintroduced WHPA, and, in July 2022, it passed the House of Representatives for the second time in a 219–211 vote—making it the most supported piece of pro-abortion legislation to pass Congress in history.
However, this legislation is currently stalled in the Senate, where Republicans are blocking our ability to pass this bill into law. But while these anti-abortion extremists praise the Supreme Court decision, they are simultaneously blocking a federal paid family leave policy that would allow parents to stay home with their newborn children. These are the same colleagues who oppose the expansion of Medicaid, which pays for nearly half of all births in the United States. They have steadfastly opposed Democratic efforts at universal Pre-K, expanding child care, and expanding funding for federal family planning and contraception programs. Instead, they cheer on a Supreme Court that decided, in America, guns have more rights than women.
Maybe the answer is as simple as them wanting to score political points, using the lives of women as pawns in a ruthless pursuit of power. The decision from the Supreme Court sets an extremely dangerous precedent which will allow for past rulings to be disputed. It does not end at Roe and the rollback of 50 years of progress. It paves a clear path to strike down Griswold v. Connecticut, allowing couples access to contraception, or Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage, and so much more.
So, it is now more imperative than ever we fight back to protect the freedoms to make our own decisions about our bodies, alongside trusted health care providers, and not under the microscope or direction of politicians. In Congress, we can start by passing WHPA, and if we need to abolish the filibuster to do so, that is what we must do. I also believe Congress and the Administration should do everything in our power to strengthen and support the Title X Program, the nation’s only dedicated source of family planning funding for things like contraception, STI testing, and family planning counseling. I also support all efforts to expand access to medication abortion in all states. Medication abortion has been approved by the FDA and is a safe and effective way to terminate a pregnancy. We are living in a post-Roe reality, and every opportunity must be explored. We cannot leave one stone unturned
Lives are at stake, and it is our duty to act.
Representative Judy Chu introduced Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022 alongside Reps. Lois Frankel, Ayanna Pressley and Veronica Escobar.