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Feinstein: Abortion Ban Unconstitutional, Endangers Women’s Health

Washington—Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today spoke against Senate Republican’s efforts to pass a 20-week abortion ban with no regard for the constitutional rights of women to make their own health care decisions. Video of her remarks is available here.

            “I am really concerned that this committee is spending time on legislation to limit access to reproductive health care, legislation that has failed to pass the Senate on more than one occasion and will not move in this Congress as well.

            In addition, it’s unnecessary and divisive. It divides members on this committee and is focused on overturning the constitutional rights of women.

            Let me take the subject of pain. Let me begin by quoting the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. This is the premier professional organization:

‘Here are the scientific facts concerning fetal pain: a human fetus does not have the capacity to experience pain until after viability. Rigorous scientific studies have found that the connections necessary to transmit signals from peripheral sensory nerves to the brain, as well as the brain structures necessary to process those signals, do not develop until at least 24 weeks of gestation. Because it lacks these connections and structures, the fetus does not even have the physiological capacity to perceive pain until at least 24 weeks of gestation.’

            I could go on but I ask this statement from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists be entered into the record.

            It’s 2019. Women are more than half of the population. We run Fortune 500 companies. We’re leaders in federal, state and local governments across the country. We’re heads of households.

            Yet, we’re still fighting against efforts to substitute the judgement of politicians in making the most personal, private and difficult decisions we may face as a woman in our lifetime. No man faces the kind of criticism and second-guessing of his behavior and medical choices as do women.

            We are continuing to fight against efforts to restrict our right to make our own health care decisions.

            I remember what it was like before the courts recognized women had the constitutional right to make their own reproductive health care decisions. We cannot return to those times.

            I remember them well. I actually served on a term-setting and paroling authority, appointed by the governor of the state of California in the 1960s. I sentenced women convicted of [performing] abortions and also granted them parole dates. It was one of the most painful things I did and the stories I heard I will never, ever forget.

            The legislation being discussed today would ban abortion at 20 weeks and threaten doctors with prison.

            Unfortunately, too often politicians promoting legislation like this have very little experience with women’s reproductive health care and know very little about what happens when women get pregnant.

            Today, we’re going to hear from two witnesses, both mothers, both wanted to get pregnant, both were excited to have their babies – but unfortunately, both faced an extremely difficult tragedy. One of the witnesses today learned that her baby had a fetal abnormality that would not allow him to live outside the womb.

            Mr. Chairman, these stories are not unique.

            In fact, women who end up having an abortion later in their pregnancies are often facing an excruciating, difficult, and painful reality that they have their baby or have a significant medical trauma.

            I have met with countless women, largely because of what I did in the area of criminal justice, who have come in to tell me their stories and cried recalling their heart wrenching experiences finding out their baby would not live, or that they had a miscarriage that had not completed.

            One woman I met with told me how she had a miscarriage that was not complete and the local hospital would not perform the abortion needed to ensure she did not get an infection.

            These are the most personal, the most difficult decisions any woman can face. It is absurd to pass laws that substitute the judgement of politicians who are not in the doctor’s office, who do not know the details of each case, who are in no position to judge what the outcome should be. These decisions should be made by the woman with the advice of her doctor.

            But, even if we can’t agree on who should make these personal, medical decisions, we already know that this legislation is unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade, and Casey v. Planned Parenthood.

            More than 20 states have enacted laws that ban abortion at 20 weeks. North Carolina, Arizona and Idaho each enacted 20-week bans that were struck down as unconstitutional by federal courts. In fact, the Supreme Court refused to review the Circuit Court’s decision. So, why are we doing this?

            There’s no reason a nationwide 20-week ban would fare differently. The Supreme Court has made clear repeatedly that laws banning abortion before viability are unconstitutional. So, why are we doing this? I believe the only reason is ‘politics.’

            It’s also important though, to note this bill creates new hurdles for women who have been victims of rape or incest.

            Rape victims would no longer be able to access reproductive care unless they could prove they received medical treatment or counseling for the rape, or reported the assault to law enforcement. This is really shocking.

            Think of a young girl who’s a victim of sex trafficking. She’s repeatedly beaten and raped. And this isn’t only in small numbers, it’s in very big numbers in this country. She’s locked up at night so she can’t escape. Eventually, she gets pregnant.

            Even though she has no ability to get help or escape her situation, this bill would deny her right to access an abortion because she failed to secure help from law enforcement or a government official. And yes, this does happen.

            These girls don’t have control over their own bodies. They have no freedom. To deny medical care to rape and incest victims because they don’t have the right paperwork, didn’t get the right kind of counseling, or have not reported their assault to law enforcement is not just unworkable, it’s also cruel.

            There’s no doubt that this hearing is part of an ongoing political effort to undermine women’s ability to access health care and control their own bodies. Once again, once again. Last year, 16 states enacted 44 new restrictions on women’s access to comprehensive reproductive health care.

            In addition, these restrictions are growing more extreme. Georgia recently became the third state this year to pass a law banning abortion at six-weeks. Six-weeks. At six-weeks many women are just discovering they’re pregnant, and some women may not know at all. A law banning abortion at six-weeks is nothing more than an attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade.

            There have also been repeated attacks on women’s reproductive rights by the Trump administration.

            Last month, the Trump administration issued new Title X rules attempting to defund Planned Parenthood; and over the last two years the administration has:

  • Restricted women’s access to birth control;
  • Denied reproductive care to pregnant women and girls in government custody;
  • Promoted legislation to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and its protections for women’s health; and
  • Challenged women’s rights in court.

            So, I want to be clear: Today’s debate is not about passing legislation to improve medical care, it’s about advancing an ideological agenda.

            The Constitution guarantees our right to privacy and our right to access reproductive health care. And there are a whole line of cases to back it up. While many of my Republicans colleagues remain determined to turn back the clock and drag our country back to pre-Roe v. Wade days.

            That is just not going to happen. As long as I am on this committee, I’ll not let it happen.