The BDN Editorial Board operates independently from the newsroom, and does not set policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering a case that could, depending on how the justices rule, overturn the reproductive health protections in the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.
Democrats in Congress have been seeking to pass legislation that would write into federal law a women’s right to chose an abortion, within certain parameters.
The Women’s Health Protection Act passed the Democratically controlled House in September on a mostly party line vote. As expected, a vote last week to begin debate on the bill failed in the evenly divided Senate. Not even every Senate Democrat voted to proceed to debate, with the measure failing on a vote of 46 to 48.
Shortly after the failed vote, Sen. Susan Collins – along with Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – introduced their own bill, the Reproductive Choice Act, to enshrine Roe v. Wade into federal law.
Pro-choice groups were very critical of Collins for not voting to move the Women’s Health Protection Act forward. They also said her bill fell short of fully protecting abortion rights.
Here’s the thing: Collins could have voted to begin debate on the Women’s Health Protection Act and walked away after the vote inevitably failed. The fact that she has introduced her own legislation, which is far from perfect and needs to be strengthened, offers lawmakers an opportunity to work together to try to craft something that actually has a chance of passage.
We realize that this is a long shot as it may be impossible to write legislation that protects a woman’s right to an abortion and gets the 60 votes needed to pass in the Senate. But, we believe it is worth the effort.
The alternative is to leave the health and future of millions of women in the hands of nine justices and to pretend that there is no other recourse.
Collins is open to considering changes to the bill, her spokesperson Annie Clark told the Bangor Daily News editorial board.
“Senator Collins would be open to discussing updates to the Reproductive Choice Act that could move the issue forward,” Clark said in a statement. “Her bill would simply codify the protections established by Roe v. Wade and affirmed by Planned Parenthood v. Casey.”
We realize it is currently an imperfect bill, but it appears to be the only way forward on a legislative measure to protect the reproductive rights of women in the U.S., no matter where they live.
It has been clear for months, perhaps years, that legislation like the Women’s Health Protection Act wouldn’t move forward in the Senate because of Republican opposition. One of the party’s – and Collins’ – big critiques of the bill is that it doesn’t include protections for medical providers who object to abortion on moral or religious grounds. They, and supporters of the WHPA, say language in the bill exempts it from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Regardless of anyone’s feelings about RFRA or whether a bill that is meant to protect women’s rights should include protections for medical providers is sadly irrelevant at this point in the debate. Such a bill has no chance of passage without RFRA protections.
At the same time, women’s rights and pro-choice groups would like to ensure that any new bill include abortion protections that have been affirmed by the Supreme Court since the Roe decision.
In 2016, the court struck down two Texas restrictions on abortions because they placed an “undue burden” on women and therefore violated their constitutional rights. In Whole Woman’s Health, the court, in a 5-3 decision, set out a three-pronged test: Any state-imposed restrictions on abortion must further a valid state interest. Courts must balance any established benefits of an abortion restriction against burdens it creates for women, and find it unconstitutional if the burdens outweigh the benefits. Restrictions on abortion must built on evidence-based findings.
Beyond reaffirming Roe and the 1992 Casey decision, which again upheld a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion, pro-choice groups want federal legislation to prioritize the women’s health and safety standards in Whole Woman’s Health as well. The Collins-Murkowski bill does not.
This middle ground between the two bills is where negotiations should happen. Sure it is a long shot, but clearly stating what restrictions on abortion are unacceptable while including religious protections for providers would be a meaningful way forward.