‘Evaluating All Options’: Democrats Brainstorm Strategy to Counter Divisive Texas Abortion Law
Earlier, the pro-life movement lauded a decision by the US Supreme Court to refuse an emergency request to block the controversial Texas anti-abortion law, dubbed the "Heartbeat Bill” that effectively banned abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.
President Joe Biden and top Democrats are reportedly weighing their options for countering the fallout from a divisive Texas law that has banned abortions
in the state from as early as six weeks into pregnancy, reported The Washington Post.
Warning that the decision is fraught with major ramifications in other states nationwide, the Democrats are now pondering their next steps in a legislative response, hoping to codify abortion rights protections into federal law, while also, potentially, reforming the supreme court, writes the outlet.
Texas’ new statute, known as Senate Bill 8 and dubbed the “heartbeat” legislation by its proponents, went into effect at midnight Wednesday after the US Supreme Court ruled
in a 5-4 decision not to block it.
A group of abortion advocates including Planned Parenthood had filed an emergency request on Monday.
They had warned that the law would essentially overturn the precedent set by Roe v. Wade. The landmark 1973 case had enshrined the right for women to choose to have an abortion. The law, signed by
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in May, bans pregnant people from getting abortions if a series of electrical impulses where the fetus’ heart would form is detectable, arguably as early as five weeks after pregnancy.
The law empowers any individual to file civil lawsuits against anyone who provides abortions or “aids or abets” them after the detection of a heartbeat.
“The heartbeat is the universal sign of life. If a Texan’s heartbeat is detected, his or her life will be protected,” said state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, in May about the bill he authored.
Anti-abortion group Texas Alliance for Life tweeted to applaud “The Texas Heartbeat Act”, signed by “pro-life Governor Abbott”.
‘Assault on Vital Constitutional Rights’
Critics have riled at the “unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny”.
Medical and reproductive health experts have also slammed the reference to a heartbeat at that stage of a pregnancy as medically inaccurate, saying an embryo does not have a developed heart at six weeks’ gestation.
President Joe Biden said on Thursday his administration will launch a “whole-of-government effort to respond to this decision” and look at “what steps the federal government can take to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions as protected by Roe”.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement that the Justice Department was “deeply concerned” about the Texas law. According to him, the department was “evaluating all options to protect the constitutional rights of women, including access to an abortion”.
The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives plans to debate and vote on legislation aimed at stopping states from enacting similar anti-abortion statutes, said Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday. The Texas bill “delivers catastrophe to women in Texas, particularly women of colour and women from low-income communities”, warned Pelosi.
The Democratic bill - the Women’s Health Protection Act - is set to be presented before the full House after September 20, after the end of recess. Biden and Democrats face an uphill battle to achieve bipartisan consensus on the divisive issue. The federal legislation that would protect abortion access from state-level bans has been introduced in Congress multiple times since 2013 but has never advanced in either the House or Senate.
If approved by the Democratic-controlled House, all of the proposals would potentially face Republican opposition in the evenly split 50-50 Senate, where Vice President Kamala Harris holds the tie-breaking vote.
A 60-vote threshold is required to avoid a filibuster. The latter is a procedural tactic requiring a supermajority to pass most bills and has been decried by Democrats as a “hurdle that allows Republicans to stand in the way of meaningful change.”
Reforming the filibuster would need the support of all Democrats in the Senate. Currently, forty-eight Democrats are said to sponsor the Women’s Health Protection Act in the Senate, with two Republican senators - Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski – having earlier voiced support for abortion rights.
Separately, liberal Democrats, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
(D-N.Y.), call for the President to strike down other restrictions on access to abortions and the Hyde amendment.
The New York congresswoman decried the restrictive abortion law that went into effect in Texas Wednesday, urging immediate action against legislative filibuster in the Senate. She went on Twitter to say that Republicans “promised to overturn Roe v Wade, and they have."
Roe v. Wade
refers to a 1973 decision by the US Supreme Court that effectively legalised abortion throughout the United States.
Democrats are also ostensibly weighing the option of shifting politics in the Supreme Court by calling for its expansion from nine to 13 seats, allowing Joe Biden to appoint four liberal-leaning justices.
The current ruling by the US Supreme Court
has raised questions about how it will decide in an upcoming case, centring on Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban. The Court is set to hear oral arguments in the coming months in the case where the state has asked the justices to overturn Roe v. Wade. A ruling is due by the end of June 2022.