In early March, a women’s health bill entitled the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2017 was introduced to the Senate Judiciary Committee. First introduced in 2013, the bill aims to protect the rights of women to access abortion services on the federal level. In the Senate, the bill is sponsored by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and co-sponsored by 40 other Democratic and Independent senators.

The text of the bill states that “access to safe, legal abortion services is essential to women’s health and central to women’s ability to participate equally in the economic and social life of the United States.” The bill makes state “TRAP laws” illegal, including requirements that require individuals looking to obtain an abortion to undergo unnecessary medical tests and in-person visits prior to the procedure.

The need for this bill comes from a history of state laws that create obstacles for individuals looking to obtain a safe and legal abortion. TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws impose unnecessary and burdensome regulations on abortion providers that make accessing an abortion challenging. According to research by the Guttmacher Institute, 18 states require abortion clinics to meet the standards for surgical centers in order to meet licensing requirements. Additionally, 17 states have laws that lay out specific requirements for procedure rooms, hallways, and neighboring facilities including the dimensions of corridors and procedure rooms and proximity to a hospital. The Guttmacher Institute states that these regulations “do little to improve patient care but that set standards that may be impossible for providers to meet.”

From 2011 through 2013, some 178 abortion restrictions were passed by state legislatures and signed into law. These are the highest numbers since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. According to NARAL Pro-Choice America, 45 states and the District of Columbia have laws subjecting abortion providers to burdensome restrictions not imposed on other medical professions.

An identical version of the bill has been introduced to the House of Representatives by Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL). The bill seeks to enforce the decision from the 2016 Supreme Court case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, in which two provisions of a Texas law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital were ruled an unconstitutional undue burden on women seeking an abortion.

Resources: Congress.gov; FMF 11/15/2013; Act for Women; Guttmacher Institute 4/15/2017; SCOTUS Blog

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