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Reproductive Justice Groups Frustrated By Democrats’ Modified Bill To Codify Roe

Late Tuesday night, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) filed an updated version of the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill that would codify Roe v. Wade into federal law. The move is a last-minute attempt to protect abortion rights in the wake of a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that revealed the high court is poised to overturn Roe.

The new version of the bill is the same as the old version ― except it does not include the legislative findings, a nonbinding part of a bill that gives important context and intentions regarding the proposed legislation. The findings that were cut from the new WHPA bill described in detail the history of abortion restrictions, the ways they’ve intersected with racism, classism and misogyny, and how bans like those now playing out at the state level disproportionately affect the most vulnerable. They’re the kind of thing that help establish the intent of a piece of legislation and can be pointed to later if there are court challenges.

Several abortion rights groups met with Democratic leadership Wednesday afternoon to discuss why they stripped the findings from the latest version of WHPA, sources tell HuffPost. Schumer ― along with the main sponsor of the bill, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) ― were in the meeting, one source confirmed to HuffPost.

At that meeting, Schumer reportedly told the organizations that he was concerned some senators would take issue with the language included in the findings, leading them to vote against the bill. According to one source close to the story, Schumer estimated that WHPA could lose up to 10 Democratic votes if the findings on racism and misogyny were included in the legislation.

Schumer explained in the meeting that the point of taking out the findings was to keep the vote unified, sources said. Blumenthal told HuffPost the purpose of taking out the findings is “to attract the broadest possible support and to avoid any issues that are unnecessarily divisive.”

Schumer did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

But there’s no sign that taking out the legislative findings will be enough to secure the vote of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the sole Democrat to hold up the bill in March when it failed by filibuster in the Senate. And some of the abortion rights groups that met with senators Wednesday said there are real costs to removing the findings, even if they are nonbinding.

One source close to the story said they are deeply frustrated with Democrats stripping the findings from the bill, especially when it’s not likely WHPA will pass anyway.

“What’s really frustrating is that we are working overtime to try to fix what we’ve been trying to deal with and what we’ve been worrying about for over a decade ― and here they are throwing our most important communities under the bus for votes that don’t even exist,” they said. “So once again, Democrats continue to waste our time and not actually show up for abortion rights in a way that’s going to make a difference to patients and providers.”

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) arrives for a news conference in the U.S. Capitol, where he addressed the leaked draft opinion indicating the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) arrives for a news conference in the U.S. Capitol, where he addressed the leaked draft opinion indicating the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade.
Tom Williams via Getty Images

As the WHPA bill stands now without the findings, a number of reproductive justice organizations, several of which co-authored the findings, are not fully supporting it. The National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum is “not actively supporting or opposing the bill,” Sung Yeon Choimorrow, NAPAWF’s executive director, told HuffPost.

Kimberly Inez McGuire, executive director of URGE: Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity, was also turned off by the erasure of communities disproportionately affected by abortion restrictions. “As of this moment, I cannot put all my support behind a bill that has stripped out some really essential language that’s rooted in the values and the communities that we’re accountable to,” she said.

Planned Parenthood intends to keep supporting the bill, despite it moving forward without the findings.

The original bill’s findings include statements such as “Abortion services are essential to health care” and “Abortion-specific restrictions are a tool of gender oppression.” They also assert that abortion is “one of the safest medical procedures in the United States.”

Other parts of the findings discuss how abortion restrictions disproportionately affect people of color, young people, people with disabilities and people in rural areas. The findings also point out that WHPA is meant to protect people of all genders, not just women ― including “transgender men, non-binary individuals, those who identify with a different gender, and others.” And they acknowledge the violent history of forced sterilization, rape, enslavement and medical experimentation that Black women and other low-income women of color have experienced throughout American history.

Despite the removal of the findings, the bill’s purpose and mechanics remain the same. But abortion advocates tell HuffPost the modification of the bill is deeply frustrating ― and just another example of how the most marginalized communities are erased in conversations about abortion.

“We were very disappointed that it’s completely lost on everyone that the people this will impact the most are only visible in WHPA’s findings,” Choimorrow said.

“We are doing what we can to make sure that the stories of the most impacted people don’t get lost in this vote,” she added. “This idea that somehow abortion is just about abortion is very frustrating to me … but here we are again ― these pieces get carved out, meaning the most impacted and most vulnerable get carved out.”

Larger, more established national reproductive rights organizations like Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America and the Center for Reproductive Rights were present at Wednesday’s meeting with Schumer, as well as smaller national reproductive justice organizations like NAPAWF, URGE and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice.

Many of the smaller groups in attendance are the ones that collectively authored the findings in WHPA. The majority of them focus on centering young people, people of color and trans and nonbinary people. The organizations themselves are largely made up of people of color.

To see the findings edited out of the bill was deeply concerning and disheartening to many of the organizations that have worked for years to include this critical context in the legislation.

“This was an opportunity to tell the story of what is necessary for reproductive justice to be made real,” Inez McGuire said.

“We worked really hard on making sure that that language was reflective of who is most harmed by abortion bans,” she added. “We’ve been very clear that those findings are an essential, substantive aspect of this bill ― and them not being in the bill is a real problem.”

“This was an opportunity to tell the story of what is necessary for reproductive justice to be made real.”

– Kimberly Inez McGuire, executive director of URGE: Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity

Advocates at Planned Parenthood were also disappointed by the removal of the findings.

“The people who are most harmed by abortion restrictions need to be front and center in our response to the Supreme Court’s assault on our freedoms,” said Karen Stone, vice president of public policy and government relations at the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. “Because of systemic discrimination, Black, Latino, Indigenous, other people of color, and LGBTQ+ people disproportionately feel the effects of abortion bans and restrictions ― a product of this country’s legacy of racism and discrimination.”

Advocates for abortion rights said that Schumer, as a compromise, agreed to read a statement on the findings on the Senate floor at some point before the vote, which is set for Tuesday.

Blumenthal told HuffPost he has had several productive conversations with abortion rights groups, and he is committed to “making clear that this measure is about racial justice and economic justice ― about justice generally ― which are at the core of achieving reproductive freedoms for all Americans.”

The pursuit to pass WHPA in the Senate “is an uphill fight ― it’s always been an uphill fight,” Blumenthal acknowledged. The senator’s words hinted at what some critics have already said: Between the filibuster and the lack of a simple Democratic majority, it’s unlikely that WHPA will pass the Senate.

WHPA, originally introduced in Congress in 2013, passed in the House last fall, but failed to pass in the Senate in March due to the filibuster.

A bill’s nonbinding findings may feel somewhat inconsequential when it comes to swaying a lawmaker’s vote. But in times like these, when abortion supporters are losing ground rapidly, findings may make or break a vote. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), one of only two remaining Republicans in the Senate who at least purportedly supports abortion rights, did vote against the bill in March, citing its “extreme” language.

Democrats still have to end the filibuster before they can get WHPA to a full vote on the Senate floor. Many have cited the filibuster as the reason WHPA is not a good solution, since it will likely never see an actual Senate vote. Collins, as well as Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), reiterated their support for the filibuster earlier this week. In March, every Democratic senator except Manchin voted to bring WHPA to a floor vote.

If passed into law, WHPA would protect the right to access legal abortion care across the country by providing safeguards against state bans and medically unnecessary hurdles. It would essentially codify Roe, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that expanded access to abortion nationwide. The high court is expected to overturn Roe later this year when it rules on the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

“This is not the time for half measures. This is not the time to hold back on speaking what we know is true,” Inez McGuire said.

“We know that abortion bans are racist,” she said. “We know that restrictions on abortion ― including this decision from the Supreme Court ― is rooted in misogyny, it is rooted in white supremacy and disproportionately harms young Black and brown, queer and trans folks. These are truths we need to be yelling from the rooftops, not erasing from bills.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated that Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) was absent for the March vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act. In fact, he was present and voted in favor of bringing the bill to a floor vote.

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