DEMOCRATS HIDE ABORTION BILL RADICAL ROOTS. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, angry and seeking political advantage after the leak of a draft Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade, is vowing to hold a vote Wednesday on a bill to legalize abortion nationwide. "Every American is going to see which side every senator stands," Schumer said last week. "A vote on this legislation is not an abstract exercise. This is as urgent and real as it gets."
Of course, Democrats have been preparing for this day for a long time. They have never been able to pass a bill codifying Roe, but that doesn't mean they haven't written bills codifying Roe. And indeed, the bill that Schumer will force to a vote on Wednesday — spoiler alert, it will not pass — was introduced last year, long before any leaked Supreme Court draft, by Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, with 47 Democratic co-sponsors, which is virtually the entire Democratic conference.
But the 2022 version of the Blumenthal bill is not the 2021 version of the bill. Not by a long shot. With abortion now center stage, Democrats have made a lot of changes to their abortion-legalizing bill. The short version is they have tried to make it less radical-sounding and thus more palatable to more people. But the 2021 version of the bill probably captures the truer sense of how its Democratic authors view abortion. For that reason, it's worth taking a look at.
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First, one thing that has not changed. Both bills are named the "Women's Health Protection Act," although one is dated 2021 and the other 2022. But beyond that, the earlier bill is 26 pages long, and the new bill is just 13 pages. What is the difference?
The difference is that the 2021 bill featured a long list of "findings," in which Senate Democrats laid out their reasons for writing the bill. In the new bill, Democrats have thrown out all the findings and stick to the main purpose of the bill, which is to legalize abortion at all stages of pregnancy across the United States and to forbid states from passing restrictions on abortion. But the findings section in the 2021 version reveals some important Democratic motivations and views.
The findings begin by declaring abortion "essential health care" and denouncing attempts to limit abortion. And then the bill introduces its fundamental purpose, which is the achievement of Reproductive Justice — capital R and capital J. "Reproductive Justice requires every individual to have the right to make their own decisions about having children regardless of their circumstances and without interference and discrimination," the bill says. "Reproductive Justice is a human right that can and will be achieved when all people, regardless of actual or perceived race, color, national origin, immigration status, sex (including gender identity, sex stereotyping, or sexual orientation), age, or disability status have the economic, social, and political power and resources to define and make decisions about their bodies, health, sexuality, families, and communities in all areas of their lives, with dignity and self-determination."
But wait — there's more. "Reproductive Justice seeks to address restrictions on reproductive health, including abortion, that perpetuate systems of oppression, lack of bodily autonomy, white supremacy, and anti-Black racism," the bill says. "This violent legacy has manifested in policies including enslavement, rape, and experimentation on Black women; forced sterilizations; medical experimentation on low-income women's reproductive systems; and the forcible removal of Indigenous children. Access to equitable reproductive health care, including abortion services, has always been deficient in the United States for Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC) and their families."
And more. "Abortion-specific restrictions are a tool of gender oppression as they target health care services that are used primarily by women," the 2021 bill says. "These paternalistic restrictions rely on and reinforce harmful stereotypes about gender roles, women's decision-making, and women's need for protection instead of support, undermining their ability to control their own lives and well-being." The bill goes on to say that United Nations human rights experts are concerned about efforts to limit abortion in the U.S.
One particularly notable part of the 2021 bill is its tortured use of the words "women" and "woman." The bill is, after all, titled the "Women's Health Protection Act. But that would imply that only women become pregnant and give birth, which is, of course, true, but it's not something progressive Democrats like to say these days. So the 2021 bill addressed that straight-on. "The terms 'woman' and 'women' are used in this bill to reflect the identity of the majority of people targeted and affected by restrictions on abortion services and to address squarely the targeted restrictions on abortion, which are rooted in misogyny," the bill says. "However, access to abortion services is critical to the health of every person capable of becoming pregnant. This Act is intended to protect all people with the capacity for pregnancy — cisgender women, transgender men, non-binary individuals, those who identify with a different gender, and others — who are unjustly harmed by restrictions on abortion services."
The 2021 bill is, in many ways, the bare, exposed id of today's Democratic Party. It is filled with the kind of language that turns off voters in the vast middle of the electorate — Democrats, Republicans, and independents. And that is why, now that the Supreme Court leak has pushed abortion to the front of the political debate, and with midterm elections on the way, Democrats have removed all that language from the 2021 version of the bill.
That stuff about Reproductive Justice? It's gone. About BIPOC? It's gone, too. Nonbinary people? Gone. White supremacy? Nowhere to be found. Now that Democrats know the public will be watching, thanks to the Supreme Court leak, they don't want people to see what they really think about abortion.
One notable aspect of the 2021 bill has made it into the 2022 bill. Even though it is known as the "Women's Health Protection Act," the title is the only place in the entire 2022 bill where the word "women" or "woman" appears. Instead, the 2022 bill is designed to cover any "person" who is pregnant. It describes its purpose as protecting "a person's ability to determine whether to continue or end a pregnancy," and it would strike down any effort to "interfere with a person's ability to terminate a pregnancy [or] to diminish or in any way negatively affect a person's constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy."
That is the bill that Schumer will force senators to vote on this week. He knows it will not pass, but he also knows that, unlike the 2021 version of the bill, the world will be watching. And he and his Democratic colleagues do not want the world to see what the party wrote just last year.
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