The XX Factor

The Democrats’ Brilliant Idea for How to Stop Unnecessary Abortion Clinic Regulations

Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Sen. Richard Blumenthal announce new legislation to protect abortion access.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Democrats in the Senate on Tuesday took a major step in pushing back against the growing trend of regulations that are designed to shut down safe abortion clinics. The Senate Judiciary Committee is hearing testimony on a bill introduced by Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Tammy Baldwin, a bill that would do significant damage to anti-choice efforts to go around Roe v. Wade by regulating abortion clinics out of existence. It’s called the Women’s Health Protection Act, and it would end the attacks on abortion clinics through one simple measure: requiring states to regulate abortion providers in exactly the same way they do other clinics and doctors who provide comparable services. No more singling out abortion providers. 

The bill goes into detail about the specific abortion-only regulations that would not be allowed, but the general principle is that if you don’t require it for other outpatient procedures, you can’t require it for abortion. Want to force women seeking abortion to listen to a script full of lies and then make them wait 24 or 48 hours to think it over? Better be prepared to do the same for people who need colonoscopies. Want to require a bunch of unnecessary visits before a woman is allowed to have a procedure? Now you need to do that for a biopsy, too. Want to force abortion clinics to meet ambulatory surgical center standards and abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges? Well, dentists will have to meet the same standards before they can drill a tooth. If this bill passes (more on that below), states would be forced to let abortion providers operate in peace or make everyone else—including, gasp, men—endure the same kind of hassles and mistreatment women seeking abortion now have to endure in much of the country. 

Now, the bad news: This bill has no chance of getting through the Republican-controlled House. But it’s still an important move on the part of the Democrats to introduce it. The ostensible excuse for all these excessive regulations on abortion clinics is that they’re necessary to “protect” women’s health. By introducing this bill, Blumenthal and Baldwin are pushing Republicans to admit the truth about the targeted laws or to explain why they believe women, as a class, cannot be trusted to exercise the same personal responsibility for their health care decisions that men enjoy. Considering that the Supreme Court will almost surely be ruling on the legality of these kinds of regulations within a few years, exposing and emphasizing the motivations behind these regulations can only help the pro-choice cause.

Then again, in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the court already signed off on the idea that woman-specific health care should be held to a different standard than health care for everyone, meaning that they may not be moved by the deep unfairness of requiring women and only women (and their providers) to jump through hoops for a simple outpatient procedure. But at least Democrats are taking measures to make the unfairness of it all clear to the voters.