Democrats vow to make abortion protections top priority if given majority

June 27, 2024

House Democrats are vowing to make abortion protections among their first acts of business next year if voters return them to power in November’s elections. 

The lawmakers are warning that keeping the GOP in control of the House — especially if Republicans take the Senate and White House — would lead to tougher restrictions on not only abortions, but also contraception, in vitro fertilization (IVF) and stem cell research. 

Their plan is to move quickly on legislation shielding women from those constraints, even in conservative states where legislators have enacted them into law. 

“House Democrats unequivocally believe in a woman’s freedom to make her own reproductive health care decisions — period, full stop,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said during a reproductive health rally at the Capitol on Thursday. 

“It’s a decision that should be between a woman, her family, her faith and her doctors. The far right’s extreme effort to take away reproductive freedom is unacceptable, unconscionable and un-American. We must stop them; and together we will stop them.”

Jeffries said Democrats, if returned to power next year, would pass several different proposals to protect abortion rights, access to contraception and the use of IVF procedures nationwide. 

Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) is the sponsor of one of those bills: The Women’s Health Protection Act, which would restore the constitutional right to abortion that was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2022. Her legislation would shield patients and providers from criminal charges even in states where the procedure is essentially banned. 

“For the first time in American history, young women have fewer rights than their grandmothers. But it does not have to be this way,” Chu said. “I know that when we take back the House, when we keep the Senate, and when we re-elect President Biden this will be the first bill that will pass out of the floor and out of Congress.”

The comments came in a week when Democrats are highlighting the two-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that established abortion access as a constitutional right.

In the wake of that decision, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, more than 20 states enacted new laws banning or applying strict limits on the procedure. Supporters of those laws say they protect the sanctity of life. Yet the restrictions have led to cases when doctors, fearing criminal consequences, have refused to perform abortions even when they’ve deemed the life of the mother to be at risk.

“Now more than ever, the public is experiencing the tragic consequences of allowing politicians to dictate what medical care women can and cannot receive,” Rep. Suzan DelBene (Wash.), head of the Democrats’ campaign arm, said this week. 

The issue has been a potent one for Democrats since the Supreme Court’s decision, as voters in states across the country — including Republican strongholds like Kansas, Kentucky and Ohio — have adopted measures protecting access to abortion care. Democrats have also been encouraged by public opinion polls routinely revealing that most voters oppose abortion restrictions, particularly when the health of the mother is at risk.

The Biden administration has seized on the unpopularity of those restrictions to attack former President Trump, whose appointment of three conservative Supreme Court justices paved the way for the decision to repeal Roe — an issue that’s sure to feature prominently in Thursday night’s presidential debate.

Trump, for his part, is treading carefully around the issue, embracing his role in overturning Roe while declining to endorse a federal abortion ban favored by many of his conservative supporters. That was the message Trump delivered to House Republicans earlier in the month during a private meeting on Capitol Hill.

“He still believes that the Dobbs decision was the right decision for America, and that the American people need to decide the issue, as they’re doing right now,” Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) said afterwards. “There may be a time and place for the federal government to get involved. But right now what needs to be done is the voices of the people in the states.”

With the House up for grabs in November, House Democrats are also highlighting the issue in hopes it animates voters to their side at the polls. 

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), a co-chair of the House Pro-Choice Caucus, noted Thursday that a vast majority of the House GOP conference has endorsed legislation establishing personhood at conception — a concept that would effectively ban abortion, IVF procedures, many forms of contraception and stem cell research. 

“They don’t really want to talk about it right now, because they realize that the vast majority of Americans, and the vast majority of their constituents, oppose these extreme laws,” DeGette said. “But make no mistake, if they keep the House, if they take the Senate, and if Donald Trump wins the White House, this is exactly the far-right majority that will enact these laws. 

“We simply cannot let this happen.”