Abortion rights supporters call it a simple, common sense, fair bill that puts abortion on the same level as every other similar health care procedure. Abortion opponents, on the other hand, have dubbed it the “most radical abortion bill ever,” with some even calling it the “‘Abortion Without Limits Until Birth’ bill.” Either way, The Women’s Health Protection Act is expected to have serious influence on the upcoming midterm elections, and both sides believe that they will be the ones to reap the benefits.
The Women’s Health Protection Act, which was introduced by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D – Conn.) would override state bills meant to restrict abortion access that put medically unnecessary restrictions on the procedure, such as requiring admitting privileges in an attempt to close clinics, banning abortion prior to viability, and other state intercessions into regulating abortion over the best medical practices and advice of the pregnant person’s physician.
“Under the WHPA, a state would not be able to force women to undergo medically unnecessary visits or needless medical procedures like ultrasound,” writes Robin Abcarian at the L.A. Times. “They would not be able to limit a nurse’s ability to dispense pregnancy ending drugs, or to counsel a patient via telemedicine. They would not be able to impose rules about the clinic, its equipment or staff (like hospital admitting privileges). They would not be able to impose restrictions on medical training for abortion procedures. Unless, of course, the state imposes those rules on all clinics where ‘medically comparable procedures’ take place.”
If passed, the bill could negate the hundreds of new abortion restrictions passed in just the last three years, restrictions that have made abortion accessible in name only in many of the red and rural states in the country.
Like any abortion or birth control-related federal bill, it’s more debate than reality. As long as Republicans control the House and Democrats control the senate, no bill either in support of or against abortion and contraception has a chance at becoming law. What is happening, instead, is a war over who will win the framing of the debate itself.
In that arena, the GOP is pushing hard. “NRLC President Carol Tobias tied the measure to the midterm elections, saying that many voters would be ‘appalled’ to learn about the bill’s strong support among Democrats,” writes Roll Call, who says anti-abortion groups have “declared war” over the act. The news outlet quotes Tobias stating, “‘Two-thirds of Senate Democrats have already cosponsored a bill to impose nationwide the extreme ideological doctrine that elective abortion must not be limited in any meaningful way, at any stage of pregnancy.”
Not to be left out, Susan B. Anthony List has pushed similar “extremist” rhetoric. “The bill being advanced today would literally overturn hundreds of pro-life, pro-woman laws across the country,” SBA List’s Mallory Quiqley told CBN News. “We’re talking laws to end sex-selection abortion, third-trimester abortions, abortion on babies that are more than five months old and capable of feeling pain. This is an extreme bill.”
Pro-abortion rights groups see the bill very differently. “It would prohibit states from singling out reproductive health care providers with oppressive requirements that grossly exceed what is necessary to ensure high standards of care–and that apply to no similarly low-risk medical procedures,” Center for Reproductive Rights’ Nancy Northup wrote in a commentary at MSNBC.com. “It would maintain those regulations that actually ensure patient safety in the provision of reproductive health care–while putting a stop to dangerous regulations that are passed under the pretext of protecting women’s well-being, but that actually cut off access to abortion care and endanger women’s health and lives.”
So who will win the war of rhetoric? If abortion opponents can convince the public that this really is about abortion until the moment of birth, for any reason and under every circumstance, that will be the message of every close senate race from now until November. If supporters can instead frame it as protecting women from returning to illegal, do it yourself procedures — a practice already allegedly popping up in Texas — then they will be using the bill themselves as voters head to the polls.
At which point the battle will play out on the ballot and it seems that whichever party wins the framing war will probably end up winning control of the senate too.
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