The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Women’s Health Protection Act on Friday by 218 to 211 largely along party lines. One Texas Democrat voted against it while all Republicans voted against the bill.
U.S. Representatives Melanie Stansbury of New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, and Teresa Leger Fernández New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District, both Democrats, voted for the bill. The bill would protect women’s right to an abortion in every state and end gestational bans and other restrictions to reproductive access. The bill is unlikely to pass the U.S. Senate.
Leger Fernández spoke on the House floor before the vote to express why she thinks the bill is urgent.
Referring to the Texas gestational abortion ban, which cuts off abortion access in Texas at six weeks, Leger Fernández called Texas women “women’s rights refugees.”
She cited the fact that Texas women are now having to travel hundreds of miles to New Mexico abortion clinics for their reproductive healthcare.
Leger Fernández told NM Political Report after the vote that “the people’s house” voted on the bill in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal at the beginning of the month to hear a request for an emergency stay on the Texas gestational ban. She called that moment “a darkness.”
“Our job in the House is to pass the kind of laws Americans want and need. We have 70 percent of Americans who support the kind of law we just passed. We have to mobilize to get the Senate to do the same,” she said over the phone.
The U.S. Senate, which is more evenly divided, is not expected to pass the bill. The White House issued a statement of administration policy on Monday in support of it.
Stansbury told NM Political Report that to get the bill passed, the rest of the country should look to New Mexico as an example of how the state Legislature passed SB 10, the Respect New Mexico Women and Families Act, earlier this year. She cited the fact that of the eight Senate Democrats who blocked passage of the New Mexico bill in 2019, which repealed antiquated language criminalizing abortion, all but three were defeated in the primaries by progressive Democrats. One died in office before the primary. While not all of the progressive Democrats won in November, reproductive rights advocates picked up six votes in the state Senate during the general election.
“Groups brought electoral change, and particularly progressive Democratic women helped to secure passage of the bill. If we look at the New Mexico example, at the federal level we have to keep doing the electoral work at the same time as the policy work,” she said by phone.
Leger Fernández told NM Political Report a personal story about having to make difficult reproductive decisions when she had a “near death experience” when she was pregnant with one of her children.
“Every woman deserves to make that difficult decision herself; that is what this bill and this fight are about,” she said.
Stansbury said some abortion clinics in New Mexico have reported “a four-fold increase” because of Texas patients requiring care.
“We’re at a scary moment in our nation’s history around reproductive justice. It’s reflected in all of these [anti-abortion] laws popping up all around the country, that’s why this is so urgent,” she said.
Rep. Yvette Herrell, a Republican representing the southern part of the state, voted against the bill.
“The deceptively named Women’s Health Protection Act is not about protecting the health of women at all; Instead, it expands abortion on demand up to the day of birth and enshrines it in federal law,” she wrote in an email
The bill consists of one line, that the bill is “to protect a person’s ability to determine whether to continue or end a pregnancy, and to protect a health care provider’s ability to provide abortion services.”
In its findings and purposes’ section, the bill states:
“Since 1973, the Supreme Court repeatedly has recognized the constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before fetal viability, and to terminate a pregnancy after fetal viability where it is necessary, in the good-faith medical judgment of the treating health care professional, for the preservation of the life or health of the person who is pregnant.”
Herrell also said in her statement:
“Radical pro-abortion politicians have put forward this extreme legislation because they are afraid that more and more Americans are embracing the right to life. They want to take this issue out of the hands of American voters. We should protect women’s health and the health of their babies. But this extreme pro-abortion bill does the opposite.”
According to a recent poll, a majority of Americans continue to support Roe v. Wade which protects the right to have an abortion.