Senate Passes Unconstitutional Bill to Undermine Reproductive Rights

In defiance of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down as unconstitutional a similar Nebraska ban on so-called “partial birth” abortion procedures, the Senate voted 64-33 to approve the “Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003.”

People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas said the legislation was a far broader attack on women’s reproductive choice than its sponsors have claimed. The bill, which contains language that is so broad it could forbid some of the most safe and common abortion procedures available to women, sets the stage for further encroachments on reproductive freedom.

“This is not just a ban on one rare medical procedure, but a fundamental and unconstitutional assault on a woman’s right to choose,” said Neas. “Many normally pro-choice Senators voted for this abortion ban, illustrating that the real threat the bill poses to reproductive rights was not fully realized despite the heated rhetoric on both sides of the debate.”

An amendment introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) put the Senate on record declaring that Roe v. Wade was decided correctly. The amendment, which passed 52 to 46, is expected to be stripped from the bill in the House of Representatives. Neas said the narrow margin of victory on the non-binding resolution, and the narrow 5-4 Supreme Court majority that struck down Nebraska’s invasive and unconstitutional law, demonstrate how important future Supreme Court nominations will be to protecting a constitutional right to privacy and reproductive choice.

The Senate rejected both an exception for protecting the health of a pregnant woman and an amendment that would have required coverage of contraception by insurance plans that already cover prescription drugs and other devices, and would have allocated resources to increasing the availability of emergency contraception. The “Murray-Reid Women’s Amendment” would have made emergency contraception available to rape victims in emergency rooms nationwide. In rejecting this amendment the Senate ignored an opportunity to prevent up to 800,000 abortions each year.

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