Sep 24, 2021 - Politics & Policy

House passes bill that would guarantee abortion access

Picture of three women at a pro-choice protest holding signs that say "Abortion access for all."

Demonstrators gather during a Planned Parenthood Day of Action Rally in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Photo: Desiree Rios/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The House of Representatives on Friday passed the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would guarantee a person's right to an abortion, in a 218-211 vote.

Why it matters: The Supreme Court in December will consider a case on a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks, which could potentially overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark case that ruled a woman had the constitutional right to have an abortion.

  • The White House earlier this week endorsed the legislation, with the Office of Management and Budget saying in a statement that "it has never been more important to codify this constitutional right and to strengthen health care access for all women, regardless of where they live."

How it works: If passed in both chambers of Congress, the bill — introduced by Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) — would codify a nationwide right to abortion, preserving the legal protections recognized by the decisions for Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld the right to abortion in 1992.

  • It would prohibit any federal or state government to "enact or enforce any law, rule, regulation, standard, or other provision having the force and effect of law that conflicts" with any of the bill's provisions.

What's next: The bill will now head to the Senate, where it is unlikely to pass. The bill needs at least 60 votes, including from Republicans who are largely opposed to abortion rights.

  • It has the support of 48 Democrats, with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) not signed on as co-sponsors.

Between the lines: If the bill is signed into law, the Supreme Court could strike it down. While legal precedent allows for Congress to protect abortion rights, the bill is being put in place to preserve abortion access if the court overrules Roe.

  • The court could potentially also overturn previous decisions that give Congress the power to oversee abortion care and health care.

What they're saying: Chu called the bill "the most pro-choice, supported bill ever in the history of Congress."

  • "I think it is important to send this bill to the Senate with as strong a vote from the House as possible," the congresswoman said in an interview with Axios.
"We are sending a message to the people of America that we will uphold a woman's right to freedom to make personal decisions about their bodies."
  • If the law does not pass the Senate, Chu said the bill will continue to be introduced in future sessions: "We will continue to raise our voices until this law is actually passed."

"This is about freedom," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said during a press conference ahead of the vote. "About freedom of women to have a choice, that the size and timing of their families is not the business of people on the court or members of Congress."

Flashback: Chu first introduced the bill in Congress in 2013, and has continued to do so ever since. This is the first time the Women’s Health Protection Act has passed the House.

Go deeper: DOJ urges Supreme Court not to overturn Roe v. Wade

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