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Senate considers a bill that would prohibit abortion restrictions

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, Senate Democrats advocated for a sweeping bill that aims to invalidate abortion restrictions nationwide.
Abortion rights supporters stand outside the Jackson Women's Health Organization Inc., in Jackson, Miss., on Jan. 22, 2013.
Abortion rights supporters stand outside the Jackson Women's Health Organization Inc., in Jackson, Miss., on Jan. 22, 2013.

Could this be the end of abortion restrictions?

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday, Senate Democrats advocated for a sweeping bill that aims to invalidate abortion restrictions nationwide. The committee heard passionate testimonies and debated the bill that would nullify any "measure or action that restricts the provision of abortion services."

Sens. Richard Blumenthal, who sponsored and introduced the pro-choice bill entitled "The Women's Health Protection Act," argued in favor of the bill, saying it would end the relentless attacks on abortion clinics and providers throughout the country by requiring states to regulate them just as they would with any other clinics.

"What we see ... is an avalanche of measures which purportedly protect women's health care but in reality restrict reproductive rights," said Blumenthal, who also chaired the hearing. "These regulations are designed to shut doors of vital health care providers forever and that purpose has been fulfilled across the county as the availability of these services has been restricted. These regulations are in effect a pernicious charade." 

The bill would "eliminate limitations against abortion providers and clinics no matter a woman may live" by getting rid of mandatory waiting periods, counseling, or other methods to sway the patient from her decision. Additionally, the law would nullify the 92 state laws that have passed placing restrictions on a woman's right to choose. 

Opponents of the bill, Republicans Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Sen. Ted Cruz, called the bill extreme and dangerous.

"This legislation would jeopardize and nullify hundreds of laws that protect both mothers and their unborn children," said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, one of several house members who testified before the Senate Committee. "Abortions, despite their grotesque nature, are medical procedures and should be regulated by the state as such." 

The Tennessee Republican held up an ultrasound of her unborn grandson at one point during her testimony, saying "even at three months, you can tell he has my eyes."

Sen. Cruz called Blumenthal's bill "a radical view from Democrats in the Senate that abortion should be universally available, common, without limit, and paid for by the taxpayer," adding, "This is a very real meaning of a war on women." 

Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, called the bill the "most radical pro-abortion bill ever considered by Congress." 

"This should be called 'The Abortion without Limits Act,'" Tobias said, accusing Democrats of waging a war over abortion rights.

Most of the witnesses called to testify advocated for the legislation, including Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. 

"Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures, yet it is being singled out for burdensome procedures," said Northup. "What is really critical about the bill, is that right from the start if this is something that is treating medically similar practices and procedures the same, there's no objection."

Willy Parker, a doctor based in Birmingham, Ala., told the committee he travels to Mississippi to help female patients. "A woman's access shouldn't be denied simply because she lives in Mississippi," Dr. Parker said. "The care she receives should be determined by medical evidence, not by her zip code."

The hearing provided a glimpse of what an election year debate on reproductive rights might look like, including how Democrats plan to use the issue to energize female voters ahead of the upcoming midterms.

While the bill is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled House, Senate Democrats are hoping to build momentum behind legislation that would prevent anyone from refusing to cover medical services -- such as contraception or abortions -- on religious grounds.  

GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham sponsored rival legislation to Blumenthal's called "The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act" that argues that since embryos after 20 weeks can feel pain, abortions thereafter should be banned. Dr. Parker said he was unaware of any fetuses that survived being born at 20 weeks, as fetuses are only considered viable past 22 to 24 weeks of gestation.

After the Hobby Lobby decision, Blumenthal immediately sent a letter to the owners of Hobby Lobby, asking them to abide by state law and provide birth control coverage to employees of their Connecticut stores.

In a statement responding to the Supreme Court's ruling, the Connecticut senator wrote, "the Hobby Lobby decision is a devastating blow, but here's the worst part: This won't be the last attack from anti-women, right-wing extremists."