This week, Alabama Republicans ushered in the most oppressive, punitive anti-abortion legislation in decades, accelerating a years-long effort to decimate abortion rights in America. With an increasingly conservative court system and a sympathetic administration, Republicans are eager to trigger a legal battle that may dismantle Roe. Democrats, who overwhelmingly support abortion rights, have played defense to this aggressive strategy for a long time, but their current plan isn’t bold enough. Now two presidential candidates—Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand—are calling for a more aggressive response by protecting abortion rights under federal law.
As Mary Ziegler, a law professor at Florida State University who has studied the history of the abortion debate and policy told Jezebel,“If Roe is overturned, we’re not likely to see the Court banning abortions. They’re likely to just say the states can do that.” One doesn’t have to wait until post-Roe to know what that looks like: Republicans have placed so many restrictions on abortion that at least seven states now only have one clinic, and 27 major cities in the U.S. are complete abortion deserts. As Ziegler said, “We don’t live in a world in which abortion rights are strongly protected across the country, and we haven’t in decades.”
Warren and Gillibrand are calling to protect abortion rights under federal law, which would prevent states from gutting abortion access should Roe fall. They both want a repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for most abortions. Warren’s proposal goes further, also calling for passage of the EACH Act, which would “prohibit abortion restrictions on private insurance,” and a reversal of the Trump administration’s domestic gag rule. (The gag rule bars healthcare providers from receiving federal family planning funds if they provide abortions or refer patients to abortion providers. A federal judge has delivered an injunction on the rule to temporarily keep it from going into effect).
“Court challenges will continue. And the next President can begin to undo some of the damage by appointing neutral and fair judges who actually respect the law and cases like Roe instead of right-wing ideologues bent on rolling back constitutional rights. But separate from these judicial fights, Congress has a role to play as well,” Warren writes. “Congress should pass new federal laws that protect access to reproductive care from right-wing ideologues in the states. Federal laws that ensure real access to birth control and abortion care for all women. Federal laws that will stand no matter what the Supreme Court does.”
The proposals are unlikely to pass in Congress, but they’re a step in the right direction. Abortion rights are under assault, and Democrats need an aggressive strategy in order to protect this fundamental right for generations to come.