Saturday, September 30, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, September 30, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Nearing one year after Dobbs, lawmakers spar on abortion rights

The upper chamber is grappling with dueling perspectives on their power to regulate abortion protections after the landmark Supreme Court case.

WASHINGTON (CN) — A woman who is challenging abortion restrictions in Texas had a pointed message for members of the Senate on Wednesday as the country approaches the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that rolled back federal protections on the procedure.

Delayed from receiving urgent medical care, Amanda Zurawski testified that the Lone Star State’s 2022 law barring most abortions nearly cost her life. She recounted falling into septic shock after doctors hesitated to provide an abortion for fear of running afoul of state restrictions that blocked such procedures except in dire circumstances.

“For days, I was locked in this bizarre and avoidable hell,” Zurawski recounted to the the Senate Judiciary Committee. “What I needed was an abortion, a standard medical procedure. An abortion would have prevented the unnecessary harm and suffering that I endured.”

Zurawski is one of five plaintiffs in a March lawsuit against Texas over its abortion ban. On Wednesday, she placed the blame for her suffering squarely on the shoulders of Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, the two Republicans who represent Texas in the U.S. Senate.

Both senators attended Wednesday's hearing but neither was still in the room when Zurawski sought to address them directly in her testimony.

“I would like for them to know that what happened to me — most people in this room would agree was horrific — but it’s a direct result of the policies they support," Zurawski said. "I nearly died on their watch.”

Next week marks one year since a leak of the Supreme Court's eventual decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization put the writing on the wall for 40 years of abortion rights codified in federal law in the wake of Roe v. Wade.

Soon after the long-awaited decision came out in June, throwing the power back to the states to set their own abortion laws, Texas Governor Gregg Abbott jumped at the opportunity, along with many others, to put a near-total abortion ban in place.

The Democratic Senate majority called Wednesday’s hearing as part of the caucus’s mounting argument for congressional action to enshrine abortion protections in federal law. A bill introduced in March by Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin, known as the Women’s Health Protection Act, would bar the government from restricting access to abortion services and would recognize a person’s right to travel across state lines.

During his opening statement, Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin threw his weight behind the measure.

“We need to respect the rights of women to make their own health care decisions,” the Illinois Republican said, “and we can do that by passing the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would restore abortion access across America.”

Republicans at the hearing warned that the proposed measure would constitute a blanket approval of late-term abortions. Durbin fired back at such arguments, however, by noting that such procedures taking place late in pregnancy are overwhelmingly related to serious medical conditions.

“When abortions later in a woman’s pregnancy happen, they can hardly be considered elective,” Durbin reasoned.

Across the aisle, meanwhile, there is a push for the government to go the other way.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham proposed a law in September to make abortions illegal at the federal level after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

“After Dobbs, our Democratic friends are basically declaring war on the unborn,” Graham proclaimed Wednesday. “[Baldwin's bill] takes all the state level protections and abolishes them. Bottom line, it doesn’t codify Roe, but it becomes one of the most extreme laws anywhere in the world.”

Though Graham's opposing bill has critics even some of his Republican colleagues, the lawmaker defended his plan Wednesday, arguing that it would bring the U.S. in line with abortion laws in other countries such as France and Spain, which allow such procedures up to 14 weeks of pregnancy.

 “America post-Dobbs should draw a line,” Graham said. “States can take their own path, up to a point. The line I have drawn is 15 weeks.”

In the lead-up to the personal dressing-down he would receive in absentia from his constituent, Zurawski, Senator Cruz contended that U.S. abortion policy should be left to the voters, not judicial precedent. “Unfortunately, my Democratic colleagues on this committee disagree,” the lawmaker said. “They want unelected judges to set one standard for the entire country, and if the voters disagree, the voters have no choice.”

Cruz called Democrats’ proposed bill “wildly out of step with the American people.”

According to Gallup polling data, 50% of Americans in 2022 said that abortion should be legal under certain circumstances, and around 35% believe it should be legal under any circumstances. Despite that, the Pew Research Center found in July that nearly 6 in 10 U.S. adults disapproved of the Supreme Court’s decision to reverse Roe v. Wade.

Zurawski meanwhile painted a dire picture Wednesday of the human consequences of overruling judicial precedent protecting abortion rights.

“The barbaric restrictions that are being passed across the country are having real life implications on real people,” Zurawski told lawmakers. “This has gone on long enough. Now, it’s time for you to do your job.”

As lawmakers spar over abortion rights, the Supreme Court last week blocked another judicial attempt to clamp down on access to such services. The high court extended a pause on lower court rulings aimed at taking the abortion drug mifepristone off pharmacy shelves.

Follow @@BenjaminSWeiss
Categories / Civil Rights, Government, Health, National, Politics

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.