House passes bill to protect abortion rights in response to the Supreme Court leaving Texas' 6-week ban in place

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US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, speaks at a news conference on the "Women's Health Protection Act," on September 24, 2021, outside the US Capitol in Washington DC. - The act would establish a federally protected right to abortion access. SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images
  • The House on Friday passed legislation that would protect abortion rights.

  • The move came in response to a strict Texas abortion law that took effect on September 1.

  • The bill faces an unlikely path ahead in the Senate due to likely Republican opposition.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

The House on Friday passed legislation that would protect the right to an abortion in an urgent response to a recently enacted anti-abortion law in Texas.

The lower chamber approved the bill, the Women's Health Protection Act, in a 218-211 vote. All Republicans along with one Democrat, Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, opposed the legislation. 

House Democrats moved to advance the bill after a strict Texas law that prohibits abortions after six weeks of pregnancy took effect on Sept. 1. The statute makes no exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

In a narrow 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court on Sept. 2 allowed the Texas law to stand, declining a request from abortion providers in the state to block the statute. The court's majority argued that the decision was technical and the justices did not review the substance of the law, which could still be legally challenged.

Related video: Sen. Graham says pro-life women are welcome anywhere in U.S.

Democrats blasted the court's decision, claiming the Texas law is a blatant violation of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. The standard set in Roe guaranteed the federal right to an abortion until pre-viability, the point when a fetus can survive outside of the womb, which medical experts say typically occurs around the 24-week mark of pregnancy. 

"When this court embraced this shameful Texas law, they brought shame to the United States Supreme Court," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a news conference on Friday, adding that the Texas law is "un-American."

"It's a sign of such great disrespect, a sign of such great disregard," Pelosi added.

The Texas law has so far withstood legal challenges because of its unique enforcement mechanism. The law invites ordinary citizens, rather than state officials, to enforce the six-week ban. That means an individual can sue an abortion provider or anyone they believe who "aids and abets" someone getting the procedure beyond six weeks of pregnancy. Successful plaintiffs will be rewarded at least $10,000, in addition to legal fees.

-The Hill (@thehill) September 24, 2021

 

The House bill aims to counter the Texas law, as well as a slew of abortion restrictions being introduced in Republican-led state legislatures across the country.

Democrats say the legislation would codify Roe v. Wade as it protects access to abortion in federal law. President Joe Biden, who opposes the Texas law and the Supreme Court decision, threw his support behind the bill on Monday.

Yet House Democrats' swift legislative action is largely symbolic, as the bill faces an uncertain fate in the Senate due to likely Republican opposition. 

The Supreme Court will consider a major abortion case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, starting December 1. The case concerns a Mississippi law that bans nearly all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, presenting a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.

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