More Than 220 Democrats in Congress Back Bill to Guarantee Nation-Wide Abortion Access

More than 80 percent of Democrats in the U.S. House and Senate are backing legislation that would block states from adopting strict abortion regulations—an effort abortion rights advocates say is needed before the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court takes its next action on state-level abortion laws.

"Our rights shouldn't depend on what state we live in at the time," U.S. Representatives Judy Chu, a California Democrat, told reporters in a briefing on what's been dubbed the Women's Health Protection Act. "Today the fight to protect abortion rights for all Americans is more critical than ever."

The proposal, which is unlikely to pass Congress in the near future, aims to ultimately outlaw several restrictions that have been put on abortion access, largely across the South and the Midwest. It comes as the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to take up a Mississippi law that would ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy—a case that's seen as a possible effort to upend the historic Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

"It could not only chip away but potentially overrule Roe v. Wade—at the very least do profound damage to it," Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, told reporters Tuesday. "It's needed now more than ever before."

The proposal has come up several times in recent years but this year its gotten more support than ever previously. Fourty-eight senators and 176 members of the U.S. House have signed on as cosponsors. There are currently no Republican sponsors of the bill in either chamber.

Chu said she thinks more lawmakers will sign on as cosponsors, but she and other supporters haven't named any Republicans who might be willing to put their name on the bill.

If the WHPA were to pass, states wouldn't be able to require mandatory waiting periods before an abortion could be performed, set restrictions on how late into pregnancy an abortion can be obtained or require counseling to try to discourage women from getting an abortion, among other changes directly targeting laws states have tried to enact.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, an organization that advocates for abortion rights and tracks state-level legislation trends, 2021 has been unprecedented in the number of abortion restrictions that state lawmakers have weighed. Since January, 561 abortion restrictions—including 165 abortion bans—have been introduced in 47 state Capitols. As of Monday, 83 of them have been approved in 16 states.

"This is part of a deliberate strategy by anti-abortion extremists to use state laws and the courts to slowly chip away at abortion access," Chu said.

The National Right to Life Committee, which is the nation's oldest and largest anti-abortion organization, didn't immediately respond to Newsweek's request for comment Tuesday. NRLC President Caroline Tobias has in the past referred to similar legislation as "extreme" and an attempt at "stripping away from elected lawmakers the ability to provide even the most minimal protections for unborn children, at any stage of their development."

The Women's Health Protection Act has virtually no path to passage in the U.S. Senate, where current filibuster rules would require support from a significant number of Republicans and conservative Democrats who haven't embraced abortion protections in the past.

Democrats back Congress bill protecting abortion
Protesters hold up signs as they march outside the Texas State Capitol on May 29 in Austin, Texas. Thousands of protesters marched in response to a new bill outlawing abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbot. Sergio Flores/Getty Images