WASHINGTON, D.C. – An emotionally charged Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday highlighted the escalating controversy between social conservatives and Democrats who are trying to establish a constitutional right to government-funded birth control and unrestricted access to abortion.
At issue was the Democrats’ Women’s Health Protection Act, S.1696, a bill that would eliminate nearly all state limitations on abortion and bar states from adopting new ones.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said the bill “would make abortion common, without limit and paid for by the American taxpayer.”
“That is a radical view held by a tiny minority of the American public but championed by activists in the Democratic Party,” he said.
Cruz said the majority of Texans do not want to see late-term abortions made a legally acceptable procedure.
“The norm across the world is to prohibit late-term abortion, but yet this law, in demanding no restrictions on abortions even in late-term cases, would put us in company with countries like China, North Korea and Vietnam, countries not known for their support of human rights,” Cruz said.
Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, countered the Democratic Party assertion that Republicans are waging a “war on women.”
“To millions of American women, such demagoguery is profoundly offensive, and I count myself among them,” she said.
Tobias explained her belief that abortion is not simply another “medical procedure,” such that “the removal of an unborn child is equivalent to removal of a malignant tumor.”
Calling it the “anti-Hobby Lobby bill,” the American Family Association says the proposed legislation shows a disturbing fixation on forcing Americans to violate their beliefs and pay for abortions. The landmark Supreme Court ruling June 30 found Hobby Lobby, as a “closely held” company, can’t be forced to pay for abortion-inducing methods of birth control in violation of the religious beliefs of its owners.
“This is a demented and hate-filled attack on Hobby Lobby and people of faith everywhere,” said AFA President Tim Wildmon. “The Democratic leadership in the Senate is firmly resolute in promoting its agenda on two fronts, first through the killing of unborn children, and second, by forcing people of faith to pay for it.”
‘Forced to go to Mexico’
The Democrats, meanwhile, insist opponents of taxpayer-funded birth control and abortion services want to take America back to the days of back-alley abortions.
Women are forced to cross the border to Mexico to get abortions or to “self-abort” because of state legal restrictions promoted by pro-life activists, testified Nancy Northrup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York.
Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., declared “every woman should have access to reproductive services regardless of ability to pay.”
Chu said a “woman’s right to reproductive services depends on her address,” arguing that half of all women live in states where laws restrict abortion services.
Proponents of limitations on abortion, however, argue the laws establish legitimate controls to prevent medical quacks from running sub-standard operations that pose a danger to women.
Tobias argued the Democrats’ bill would censor information and imagery that might cause a women considering abortion to change her mind.
She called S.1696 the “abortion without limits act.”
“In reality, the central purpose of this bill is precisely to invalidate many state laws, and a significant number of federal laws, that have been upheld by the federal courts, or that are likely to survive federal judicial scrutiny if they are challenged,” Tobias said.
‘He has my eyes’
In his opening statement, ranking member Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, asserted the 50 states have a constitutional right to pass laws limiting taxpayer-funded reproductive services. He cited a First Amendment right of citizens to not pay for birth-control and abortion services that violate their religious beliefs.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., urged Congress to pass a “pain-capable infant protection” law that would further restrict abortions after a fetus has developed sufficiently to be able to experience pain.
Blackburn displayed a three-dimensional ultrasound of her unborn grandson, contending passage of S.1696 would remove existing protection and safety measures for women undergoing abortions.
“How exciting it was for me to see this ultrasound,” she said. “I could tell three months before he was born that he had my eyes. What a wonder this was for a grandmother to see. I could see him peacefully resting in his mother’s womb.
“Our Constitution does not put a qualifier on the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, even in a mother’s womb,” Blackburn said.
In contrast, abortion advocate Northrup testified lawmakers are depriving women of “essential” services.
She said more than 200 state laws were passed from 2011 to 2013 to make it harder or impossible for women to access abortion services in their communities.
“These restrictions take many forms. Some blatantly defy the U.S. Constitution and decades of settled law,” Northrup said.
“Today, women’s access to abortion services is being blocked through an avalanche of pretextual laws designed to accomplish by the pen what could not be accomplished through brute force – the closure of facilities providing essential reproductive health care to the women of this country.”
Dr. Monique Chireau, assistant professor in the Division of Clinical and Epidemiological Research in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Duke Medical Center, disagreed, citing scientific research regarding the physical dangers and psychological risks abortions can cause women.
“I believe the lack of oversight, reporting, data collection and monitoring of the abortion industry in the United States has caused the true extent of harm to women caused by this procedure to be understated,” Chirequ testified.
She said no other “commonly performed procedure, which is potentially associated with injury or death to a patient, receive so little scrutiny.”
“This lack of accountability in abortion service provision has contributed to other social ills such as enabling the cover-up of the sexual abuse of minors, human trafficking, rape and the exploitation of women,” Chirequ said.
Tobias cited Dr. Kermit Gosnell of Philadelphia as “only the most notorious recent example of a certain type of abortion provider who flourishes under the aura of political immunity generated by pro-abortion advocacy groups in some jurisdictions.”
Regulating the states
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, argued S.1696 would allow Congress to strike down a broad class of laws simply because the law attempts to regulate abortion.
“This law S1696 would not regulate abortion, it would regulate the states, telling them what laws they may and may not pass,” Hatch asserted.
“This bill would allow politicians to make final decisions over medical services regarding abortion. Even in Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court distinguished abortion from other medical services, because abortion is a unique procedure that terminates human life. This bill applies to all state and federal laws regarding abortion in the past, the present, and the future.”
Chireau agreed with Hatch, testifying that S.1696 would “negate all states rights over abortion” by creating a special legally protected class for abortion medical practitioners.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said the unborn child is a human life that deserves the full protection of rights defined under the Constitution.
“The challenge of life is why we are here, to use our strength in defense of the week,” Lee said in his opening statement. “We can choose life, and when this debate one day finally ends, I think we will choose life.”
Dr. Willie Parker, a physician in Birmingham, Alabama, explained in response to a question posed by Lee that an abortion is a unique medical procedure that aims to terminate a human life.
Parker said he’s concerned because the Democrats’ bill would strike down any federal or state law that would allow a medical practitioner to refuse to participate in an abortion procedure based upon a moral objection.
“A lot of people go into obstetrics and gynecology because they want to take care of women and babies,” Parker said. “If they are told they have no choice under law but to perform an abortion, they will either commit a medical practice abhorrent to them or they would leave the field.”