This week members of Congress introduced legislation into both chambers that would codify Roe v. Wade into law if it passes.
HR 3755, more commonly known as the Women’s Health Protection Act, would protect a person’s ability to terminate a pregnancy and would protect a provider’s ability to provide abortion services. Reproductive healthcare advocates believe the bill, which has been introduced by members of Congress, has greater urgency this year because of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Mississippi case the U.S. Supreme Court plans to hear next year.
Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which challenges Mississippi’s unconstitutional 15-week abortion gestational ban, will be the first test of Roe v. Wade with the new 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court bench. Many in the reproductive healthcare community believe Roe v. Wade could be overturned or become a law in name only as a result. The Supreme Court is expected to decide on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in 2022.
The 2021 repeal of the New Mexico statute that criminalized abortion in 1969 ensures that abortion care in the state will remain legal even if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. But, Marie Landau, board co-chair of the nonprofit abortion fund New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, said that if abortion becomes criminalized in other states, New Mexico will also be affected.
“Every time something happens, whether it’s COVID-related or TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws [are passed], the numbers [of out-of-state abortion patients] go up hugely, specifically from Texas and other southern states where the restrictions are extreme or there are no clinics,” Landau told NM Political Report. “Texas passed a spate of TRAP laws and the numbers [of abortion patients] from Texas went way up.”
Jackie Blank, federal legislative strategist at the nonprofit Center for Reproductive Rights, said in an email that the bill, if it became law, would prohibit gestational bans like the one Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law last month.
“This bill protects the right to access abortion across the U.S. by providing a federal safeguard against medically unnecessary restrictions and bans that single out abortion. If WHPA became law, gestational abortion bans would not be allowed to stand,” she wrote.
Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains predicted to NM Political Report in early 2020, before U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away, that the landmark decision legalizing abortion would be overturned within a few years, placing 25 million women of reproductive age in a state without a single abortion clinic.
Vicki Cowart, president and chief executive officer of PPRM, told NM Political Report in an email recently that “the potential impact cannot be overstated” if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.
“If Roe is undermined or overturned, 25 million women of reproductive age across the country will lose access to safe, legal abortion care in their home communities. I want to be clear: abortion is still safe, legal and accessible in New Mexico. But access to health care should never depend on your zip code or your income,” Cowart wrote.
Blank said that the 2021 bill has more original co-sponsors in the House and Senate than earlier versions of the bill did.
“With Roe on the chopping block, the need for WHPA is urgent and it was just reintroduced with more original co-sponsors than ever. Congress sees the urgency of this moment and we are hopeful they will act swiftly to pass WHPA and protect access to abortion,” she wrote to NM Political Report.
Democratic Senators Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján are both original cosponsors to the bill in the Senate. Heinrich cosponsored the Senate bill in the past.
“Women should be able to make their own health care decisions without the government getting between them and their medical providers. Restricting access to constitutionally protected medical care puts women’s lives at risk. I’m proud to cosponsor the Women’s Health Protection Act to strengthen women’s reproductive rights and freedom to make their own personal health care choices that shape their lives, futures, and families,” Heinrich wrote.
Luján’s press secretary, Adán Serna, said Luján believes women have the right to bodily autonomy.
“With Republican legislatures across the country setting their sights on overturning Roe, the Senator believes it’s essential to protect the rights of all American women to make choices about their own bodies,” Serna wrote.
The positions of the U.S. House delegation from New Mexico on the bill cut across party lines. U.S. Representative Teresa Leger Fernández, a Democrat for the 3rd Congressional District in northern New Mexico, is also an original co-sponsor on the bill.
“Over the last decade, Republicans have enacted countless laws across the country aimed at restricting and banning abortion care services. The Women’s Health Protection Act will safeguard our constitutional right to access safe and legal health care services free from dangerous state restrictions,” Leger Fernández wrote to NM Political Report. “New Mexico stands with women and families, and respects women to make their own health care decisions. I’m proud to be an original co-sponsor of this bill because women in every state deserve to make their own health care decisions without the interference of politicians. Abortion access is critical to achieve reproductive justice for our Latino, Black, Tribal, LGBTQ+, and rural communities.”
But Rep. Yvette Herrell, a Republican representing the 2nd Congressional District in southern New Mexico, disagreed.
“Any procedure that forever stops a beating heart is not healthcare. I will always stand on the side of life and oppose any legislation that expands or funds abortion,” Herrell wrote to NM Political Report.
Incoming Representative Melanie Stansbury, also a Democrat representing the 1st Congressional District in the Albuquerque area, supports the measure and said she plans to support it.
“Decisions around abortion are deeply personal and should remain between a person, their faith, their family and their doctor. Every circumstance is unique and the government should trust individuals to make their own decisions. That’s why I look forward to supporting the Women’s Health Protection Act in Congress. As attacks on reproductive rights continue across the country, it is critical we pass legislation at the federal level to ensure everyone has safe access to care,” Stansbury wrote to NM Political Report.