The US House of Representatives approved HR 3755, the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA), Friday, marking the first time the House has passed legislation specifically designed to protect the right to abortion access across the nation.
The WHPA makes explicit that access to abortion services is essential to health care and the ability of people to “participate equally in the economic and social life in the United Sates.” The Act recognizes the proliferation of abortion restrictions across the US that have created a “patchwork system” of access to abortion services, and formally recognizes the systemic harm that restrictions exacerbate towards persons who can become pregnant, including the disproportional effect on persons of color and those living in low-income situations.
The WHPA would ensure that a person seeking an abortion would be able to receive service free from stigmatizing limitations or otherwise “medically unnecessary” barriers. This includes a ban on state-imposed prohibitions “at any point … in time prior to fetal viability,” limitations on the types of abortion services that health care providers can provide, and requirements that patients “disclose [their] reason or reasons for seeking” an abortion.
The WHPA was approved as state-imposed restrictions to abortion access continue to grow, and the fear that protections afforded in the landmark case of Roe v Wade will be rendered moot. Battles are currently being waged against abortion restrictions in Texas, Tennessee and Mississippi over the application and legality of state laws restricting abortion access. And the US Supreme Court allowed a Texas bill that financially rewarded individuals who reported persons seeking or giving abortions after six weeks into a pregnancy within the state to go into effect. The decision has been harshly criticized as legalizing vigilanteism against those seeking abortions.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D), alongside other pro-choice members of the House, talked about the injustices that people faced because of restrictions to abortion access and the importance of the moment. Pelosi stated that the choice to have an abortion is “about freedom of women to have choice about the size and timing of their families, and not the business of people on the court or members of congress.”
The Act now moves to the Senate, where it appears unlikely to gain approval. The WHPA narrowly passed the house 218-211, and it is unknown if moderate Democrats will vote with their party on this issue.