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Senate Dems eye Women's Health Protection Act

Some congressional Republicans hope to make reproductive rights a key issue in the 2014 elections. Plenty of Democrats seem to think that's a great idea.
Image: A local pro-choice activist in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. January 22, 2009.
A local pro-choice activist in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. January 22, 2009.
Last week, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) unveiled new federal legislation to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, regardless of the medical dangers and constitutional concerns. The Republican South Carolinian said he thinks it's important to put social issues on Congress' legislative agenda in advance of the 2014 midterms.
Be careful what you wish for, senator. Laura Bassett reports today:

Following an unprecedented three-year wave of state legislative attacks on abortion and family planning services, a group of Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate plan to go on the offensive Wednesday with a historic bill that would make it illegal for states to chip away at women's reproductive rights. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) will introduce the Women's Health Protection Act of 2013, joined by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Reps. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), Judy Chu (D-Calif.) and Lois Frankel (D-Fla.). The bill would prohibit states from passing so-called Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws, which impose strict and cost-prohibitive building standards on abortion clinics, require women seeking abortions to have ultrasounds, and create other barriers to abortion access.

Blumenthal told Bassett, "In states like Texas and Wisconsin, legislatures are passing bills with the false pretext of protecting health when their only objective is to obstruct and curtail access to safe and legal abortions and reproductive services. These laws are largely unconstitutional, and some measure of certainty and clarity is required to preempt these regulations and laws so women are not deterred in their very personal decisions based on their own values on how they want to use their constitutional rights. The Women's Health Protection Act will provide a clear and certain response to these regulations and laws that impose unnecessary tests, procedures and restrictions -- including requirements for physical layout in clinics -- on reproductive services."
If signed into law -- and with the current House, it's best to keep expectations low -- the Democratic measure wouldn't automatically invalidate the state restrictions, though as Roll Call reported, the Women's Health Protection Act "would set markers for federal courts."
In terms of the politics, Blumenthal suggested to Roll Call that he'd like to get members on the record on the issue. "As the election approaches, I think the voters are going to want to know where legislators stand on these issues," he said. "The Women's Health Protection Act, guaranteeing reproductive rights, hopefully will attract increasing support."
In other words, Graham is pushing his measure, hoping to make reproductive rights a key issue in the 2014 elections, and quite a few progressive Democrats have effectively responded, "That's a great idea."