Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) yesterday questioned Dr. Jamila Perritt, president and CEO of Physicians for Reproductive Health, and Michele Goodwin, professor of law at University of California, Irvine School of Law, on the need to protect abortion rights during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Women’s Health Protection Act.
Full text of the exchange follows and video is available here.
Feinstein: “I’m really sorry that we have reached this day here.
“I remember the time well when abortion was essentially illegal in the United States. I know of women who have ended their lives. I saw, you know, the plate being passed at Stanford where I lived so a woman could go to Mexico for her abortion.
“And nearly 50 years after the Supreme Court guaranteed the right to safe and legal abortion, it’s still unfortunate that women’s reproductive rights are considered an issue that’s up for debate. I believe that deeply.
“So far in 2021 state lawmakers across the country have introduced 561 abortion restriction bills in state legislatures. Eighty-three of those have been signed into law.
“The Supreme Court agreed to hear a case about Mississippi’s restrictive abortion law. Many observers, including myself, are concerned that the Supreme Court could use this case to overturn or diminish the protections established in Roe.
“Let me ask Dr. Perritt a question. Texas recently passed a law that would ban all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. Is there any medical justification for a law like this which would limit the flexibility of a patient and her doctor to make the health care decisions that are best for the patient?”
Perritt: “Thank you for that question. That’s an easy answer. The answer is no. None of these restrictions are based in any medical evidence at all. They’re not based in any science. And they absolutely do not protect the health and safety of the folks that are seeking care.
“The idea that they would do so is not supported by the medical evidence, and as I mentioned in my written and my oral testimony, it actually does the opposite. It makes care less safe, it increases the risk of complications during pregnancy and decreases the likelihood that individuals will be able to go on to live lives that are productive and safe and healthy and allow them to be well.”
Feinstein: “This year alone 16 states have enacted 83 abortion restrictions. These new laws impact 58 percent of women in the United States from ages 13 to 44. These restrictions, that vary by state, mean that a woman’s access to safe reproductive health care is largely dependent on her zip code. I’m just amazed at this, Dr. Perritt. As a provider, how do you see these inconsistencies across states impact women you treat?”
Perritt: “Too many people unfortunately lack access to essential health care services including abortion care. We know as Professor Goodwin mentioned that the same states that are enacting these restrictions on abortion access have the worst records and reproductive health and well-being for the folks in their own states.
“It has a direct impact. I provide care in the Washington D.C. area that includes Maryland and Virginia. And the legislation across those states are vastly different, even though the actual geography is not that far apart. And so what that means – if you live in Virginia, if you live in Maryland, if you live in the District, your experience of accessing abortion care, this constitutionally protected right, is going to be extremely different and solely based on your zip code. You are absolutely right. And so it has devastating impacts on agency, on autonomy, on self-determination for the community that I care for.
“I grew up here in D.C. and I practice here by intention because I believe that the community that raised me, that made me, absolutely deserves access to the same health care that anyone else would be able to provide and have it done so in a way that is compassionate, caring, community-grounded and grounded deeply in principles of justice and equity.”
Feinstein: “Last month, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that could dramatically change a woman’s access to reproductive health care. Several states have trigger laws in place that would impose abortion bans if Roe is overturned. Dr. Goodwin, how could the Supreme Court decision alter a woman’s access in this regard?”
Goodwin: “The unfortunate times that you have mentioned are upon us today. It’s important to recognize that there has long been bipartisan support for abortion rights. Roe v. Wade was a seven-to-two opinion written by Justice Blackmun. Five of the seven justices at that time were Republican-appointed. Prescott Bush, who was treasurer of Planned Parenthood, the father of George Bush I.
“When you think about where the Supreme Court is today, it means that Roe is vulnerable and it’s vulnerable by a death by 1,000 strikes. These laws which you have mentioned have been a proliferation as an attempt to do away with abortion rights, but it’s been a euphemistic football for political gerrymandering with regard to abortion rights.
“What WHPA does is it protects all people across the country – regardless of their race, regardless of their socioeconomic status, regardless of their zip code – and being able to receive fundamental health care, which this is.
“And I want to make one other point, which is that the World Health Organization has long established that an abortion is as safe as a penicillin shot. So we should really begin there.
“What is the purpose of this legislating when we know that these are safe procedures and individuals should not be denied access to this health care simply because of the state in which they live? And these trigger laws disproportionately affect poor women, poor people who have the potential to become pregnant. And that is unconstitutional.”