We must use every legislative tool to defend abortion rights

I’ll be damned if I let my daughters grow up with fewer rights than their mom had. We must pass the Women’s Health Protection Act and the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Healthcare Act.

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Abortion rights activists demonstrate in Washington on June 30 against the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Abortion rights activists demonstrate in Washington on June 30 against the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photos

When Anna’s water broke on her wedding day, she knew something was wrong.

Anna was just 19 weeks pregnant — and living in Texas after Senate Bill 8 effectively banned most abortions. When she and her fiancé rushed to the hospital, they received heartbreaking news. The baby would not survive, and she had a high chance of bleeding out.

But even though doctors recommended terminating the pregnancy, they wouldn’t say the word “abortion,” let alone conduct the procedure. Instead, Anna had to spend thousands of dollars and fly hundreds of miles to reach Colorado, the closest state that could give her the care she needed to survive.

This was last September, nine months before the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson overturned Roe v. Wade. And while Anna’s story is tragic, it is no longer anomalous. In this post-Roe world, more and more states are stripping Americans of a constitutional right that has helped protect us for the past half-century.

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Now, the next Anna’s life will be in the hands of lawyers arguing for her to access care — or at the whim of a doctor, forced to choose between risking jail or restricting the care she needs.

Last month’s decision has already transformed reproductive care for millions of Americans. But it will fall most heavily on those facing the highest barriers to care and prosperity: women of color.

Studies show that women of color use abortion services more than any other group. But conservative lawmakers have long worked to make reproductive care inaccessible to them. Women of color are more likely to be uninsured, low-income and to use less effective birth control

Due to the Hyde Amendment, even those who use public insurance — from low-income communities to veterans and service members — struggle to access abortion care. Unequal coverage ensures that health care remains more attainable for the wealthy, yet out of reach for those working to make ends meet.

The Supreme Court’s decision only raises these barriers, with potentially deadly consequences.

Law divorced from justice

Laws like SB8 in Texas show abortion restrictions will reach women of color first. An uneven patchwork of care is forcing patients to travel long distances, a costly choice if you don’t have paid sick leave at work. Ending Roe enables laws that invade the privacy of people suffering miscarriages and put women, transgender men, nonbinary individuals and their doctors at risk of jail time. And research shows banning abortion will increase maternal mortality by 21%.

Indeed, such legislation has already placed patients in mortal danger. Women like Anna have been forced to travel hundreds of miles for life-saving care. Patients suffering miscarriages have had their prescriptions denied by suspicious pharmacists. Scores of social media users have shared stories of care denied or delayed, even when the fetus is not viable or the mother’s life is in danger — or the mother is a child.

As someone who has suffered a miscarriage myself, I cannot imagine the trauma these women have endured: managing the profound grief of losing a child while forced to fight for the health care that should be their human right.

The very notion is inhumane. It is law divorced from justice.

So let me be clear: Those seeking care should not be ashamed. Women should be allowed to make their health care decisions without Mitch McConnell or Brett Kavanaugh looming over them.

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The people who should feel shame are those who claim to be pro-life yet would let a mother die needlessly and preventably during childbirth; block access to affordable child care; or who ensure assault rifles are easy to get but basic health care impossible to find.

Yet these are the people who have no shame. And I’ll be damned if I let my daughters grow up with fewer rights than their mom had.

By safeguarding abortion rights whenever and wherever possible, we can protect women of color and the thousands of others who obtain abortions every year.

Legislators in states where abortion remains legal, like my home state of Illinois, must act quickly to establish safe havens for patients. Meanwhile, those of us in Washington who support abortion access must use every legislative tool to defend our rights. We must end the filibuster to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act and codify the right to abortion access, as well as pass legislation like the EACH Act (Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Healthcare) to put the priorities of the American people above partisan gridlock.

As we reckon with the Supreme Court’s decision, we must not falter against Republicans’ anti-woman attacks. Instead, we must redouble our commitment to protecting abortion rights: for our daughters and our daughters’ daughters, for communities of color and for all Americans.

Now, more than ever before in our lifetimes, we must defend liberty and justice for all.

Tammy Duckworth is a Democratic senator from Illinois.

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