This week the Senate will not be taking up legislation to lower health care or prescription drug costs. Nor will we be allowed to vote on bills to combat the opioid epidemic. Sadly, we also will not address climate change, raising wages or any of the other critical kitchen table issues calling out for our attention.
Instead, Republican leader Mitch McConnell prioritized a series of votes (that ultimately failed) aimed at limiting women's access to abortion and jailing doctors who provide constitutionally protected health care services for women around the country.
Yes, you read that right: The GOP wanted to jail doctors who perform abortions. The bills, if they had become law, would have allowed judges to sentence doctors to up to five years in prison.
Yes, this is happening in the United States. Yes, you should be outraged.
It is perfectly clear what's really at work here. These bills are dangerous and extreme and are part of a larger ongoing effort by the Trump administration to overturn Roe vs. Wade. And while they were authored by a pair of Republican senators from Nebraska and South Carolina, the proposed laws would affect every woman in every state.
Proponents of these efforts try to hide their motives by arguing that this type of legislation is necessary to prevent infanticide. That's a far cry from the truth, because — let's be very clear — infanticide is already illegal under federal law, as it absolutely should be. Anyone who says different is not telling the truth.
The first bill on so-called abortion survivors, introduced by Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., was essentially a disinformation campaign disguised as legislation. If this bill had become law, it would have added medical uncertainty to the laws that are already on the books that outlaw infanticide, and it would have significantly complicated options for medical procedures to save the lives of mothers.
Abortions that are performed later in pregnancy are most often done as a result of severe fetal diagnoses and the serious risks that a pregnancy poses to the life of the woman. Getting an abortion under those circumstances isn't a decision any woman or family wants to be in a position to make; it is tragic, and it is heartbreaking. Yet this bill could subject doctors to up to five years in prison for helping patients during this time.
The second bill, introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., would have banned all abortion access for women who have been pregnant for 20 weeks or more, and any doctors who violated the ban would have been sent to prison for up to five years. This is a clear violation of a woman's constitutionally protected right to receive abortion services, and courts have struck down similar bans.
Protecting pregnant women, new mothers and children is about more than scoring political points with anti-choice legislation. It's about ensuring that women have access to maternity care and affordable health care coverage.
We should be working together to invest in maternal and child health. The United States is one of the only developed countries where the maternal mortality rate is worse than it was 25 years ago. More than 700 moms in America die every year because of complications with a pregnancy, but more than 60 percent of those deaths are preventable. More than 21,000 infants die in the United States every year, and many of those deaths are preventable, too.
These numbers are heartbreaking, and we need to do better.
We should be improving access to quality maternal care and creating emergency protocols so any woman facing complications during pregnancy gets the care she needs. Medicaid health care programs are vitally important to low-income women, but unfortunately right now they cover moms for only 60 days after they give birth. That's not enough to support new moms or their children. We need to expand that coverage for new moms so they are covered for the entire first year.
Critically, we also need to crack down on junk health insurance plans, because these plans are not required to cover maternity care and can deny patients coverage because of their pre-existing conditions.
These measures could make a significant difference for American families. Unfortunately, Mitch McConnell won't let any of our bills that address these challenges come up for votes — just like he refuses to allow votes on so many important issues facing American families. Instead, he is championing these two bills that undermine women's reproductive health.
If this infuriates you, fight back. Donald Trump told us exactly what he was planning during his first campaign in 2016. "There has to be some form of punishment" for a woman who receives an abortion, he told MSNBC. A day later, he said punishing doctors who perform abortions should be the focus. And his allies in the Senate are doing everything they can to make that dangerous vision a reality.
The best defense against these abortion bans — and others like them — even passing is to replace the man in the White House and take back the Senate from Mitch McConnell. That's the only way to stop this assault on women's rights. Because at the end of the day, it really is this simple: Reproductive health decisions should be made by a woman in consultation with her doctor and her family and not by Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump or the government.
This piece was first published by NBC Think.
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