Women’s Health Protection Act explained as Roe v. Wade comes under likely threat

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(WASHINGTON) — As a leaked draft opinion of a Supreme Court ruling shows a conservative majority of justices appear poised to overturn federal protections of abortion rights, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday the Senate will hold a procedural vote to begin debate on the Women’s Health Protection Act next week.

WHPA is a bill that aims to codify Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that grants protections for a woman’s right to abortion, at the federal level. The bill prohibits governmental restrictions on access to abortion services, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed Tuesday that the leaked draft opinion that could overturn Roe v. Wade was authentic. He has since ordered an investigation into the draft’s public release.

After narrowly passing in the House last September, WHPA has been stalled in the Senate. Schumer had failed to get the entire Democratic caucus on board when he tried to start debate on the bill in February.

At a press conference Thursday, Schumer expressed skepticism over whether the bill will receive the Republican votes it needs to pass. To overcome a filibuster, the bill needs support from 60 members of Congress.

While a final vote in the Senate needs a simple majority of 51 votes, the filibuster procedural rule requires a supermajority, or 60 votes, to start or end debate on legislation so it can face a final vote. Even if a party has a simple majority in the Senate, it still needs a super majority in order to put a bill to a final vote.

“Republicans will have two choices. They can own the destruction of women’s rights, or they can reverse course and work to prevent the damage. Count me as skeptical that they’ll do the latter. Republicans have been on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of America,” he said.

What’s in the WHPA bill?

The bill would prevent state governments from limiting a health care provider’s ability to prescribe certain drugs, offer abortion services via telemedicine, or immediately provide abortion services when the provider determines a delay risks the patient’s health, according to CRS.

It also prevents states from requiring patients to make medically unnecessary in-person visits before receiving abortion services or forcing women to disclose their reasons for obtaining abortions and related services. WHPA would ban states from prohibiting abortion services before or after fetal viability when a provider determines the pregnancy risks the patient’s life or health.

WHPA also prohibits other governmental measures that single out and restrict access to abortion services, unless a state government can prove the measure significantly advances the safety of abortion services or health of patients and cannot be achieved through less restrictive ways, according to CRS.

It also allows the Department of Justice, individuals or abortion providers to bring lawsuits against violations of the bill, regardless of whether restrictions were put in place before or after the bill becomes law.

The proposed legislation, introduced in the House by Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., last June, was a response to increased attacks on abortion rights over the last decade, according to an abortion rights advocate who spoke with ABC News.

“WHPA is a response to the last decade, where anti-abortion lawmakers and states have passed more than 500 restrictions and bans on abortion care,” Leila Abolfazli, the director of federal reproductive rights at the National Women’s Law Center, told ABC News.

Anti-abortion activists see WHPA as far too sweeping. One anti-abortion advocate said the bill would take down almost all state laws governing abortions.

“What it does primarily is it creates a right to abortion, all nine months of pregnancy [and] it would invalidate pretty much all state legislation that’s been passed,” said Jennifer Popik, a lawyer and director of federal legislation at anti-abortion group, National Right to Life.

She also called it “pretty much the most permissive abortion bill that’s ever been voted on in Congress.” Popik said the bill is as comprehensive as a right-to-abortion bill gets.

“Anything that treated abortion differently than any other medical procedure would be struck by this,” she said.

Abolfazli, from the National Women’s Law Center, instead, said WHPA “comprehensively addresses the web of restrictions and bans that have been put in place to stop people from getting abortions” as well as the attempts to “shame and stigmatize” anyone getting an abortion.

Republicans, aside from Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins who publicly support access to abortion, have sought to roll back Roe v. Wade for decades. But, Collins said she opposes WHPA.

“My goal is to codify what is essentially existing law. That means Roe v. Wade, it means Casey versus Planned Parenthood, which established the undue burden test. And it means keeping the conscience protections which appear to be wiped out by the Democrats’ version. So I’m not trying to go beyond current law or, but rather to codify those Supreme Court decisions,” Collins told ABC News’ Trish Turner on Thursday.

Murkowski and Collins have authored their own legislation proposals to codify Roe that have yet to be put up for vote.

What are the chances WHPA will become law?

Popik, of National Right to Life, said the bill is unlikely to become law given how it passed the House along party lines.

“Not only would they have a hard time getting to 50 votes on this, but they would need to get to 60 votes on this … I would have a hard time seeing the current Congress getting to 60 votes on anything,” Popik said, citing the filibuster.

“Senate Democrats are in control of the floor schedule, but they do not have 60 senators who would vote in support of the Women’s Health Protection Act, or any effort to protect abortion, because, in fact, I think it’s 47 senators are on record asking the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. So it is simply that the numbers are not there,” said Abolfazli, of the National Women’s Law Center.

Abolfazli added, “We have never had the numbers to pass something like this.”

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