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Attorney General Frey Joins Coalition Fighting to Defend Women's Health and Reproductive Freedom
June 16, 2021
AUGUSTA - Attorney General Aaron M. Frey today joined a coalition of 16 Attorneys General from across the nation in submitting testimony into the congressional record urging passage of the Women's Health Protection Act (WHPA) which would protect the constitutional right to access abortion services by prohibiting unnecessary restrictions - passed at the state level that undermine the availability and safety of womens health care services. Attorney General Frey recently testified in opposition to similar measures being considered by the Maine Legislature.
"These state proposals create unnecessary and harmful barriers to patients' access to safe, legal abortion care, which is their intent," said Frey. "I am strongly opposed to similar measures currently under consideration by the Maine Legislature, and am concerned by their passage in other states. The proliferation of state legislative efforts to curb abortion rights is why it is crucial that Congress pass the Womens Health Protection Act."
The coalition led by New York Attorney General Letitia James argues that while legislators in many states may claim that the laws they are enacting are being passed to promote womens health, the reality is that these laws are simply designed to restrict access to abortion services and, most often, lead to worse health outcomes for women. These include laws requiring physicians to have admitting privileges at hospitals and setting arbitrary requirements at womens health clinics for the size of procedure rooms and corridors. The proliferation of these restrictions has negatively impacted womens health disproportionately affecting low-income communities and communities of color, while simultaneously creating a lack of national consistency that strains states health care systems. Most importantly, any law that imposes an undue burden on a womans right to choose to terminate a pregnancy is unconstitutional.
The Womens Health Protection Act targets these onerous state laws that have been adopted in a concerted strategy to restrict access to abortion across the nation. In Whole Womans Health v. Hellerstedt, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Texas law that required abortion providers to maintain admitting privileges at a local hospital failed to advance womens health and posed an undue burden on women seeking an abortion. Additionally, last year, a coalition of Attorneys General helped win another victory in June Medical Services v. Gee, in which the Supreme Court held that a similar law in Louisiana was unconstitutional.
As more states try to pass new laws that restrict womens reproductive freedoms with medically unnecessary restrictions, new court challenges continue to be filed a process that can often take years. Thats why the coalition is today urging Congress to pass the WHPA to ensure that such restrictions are not imposed in the first place.
The consequences of these laws are already evident across the country. Research from 2017 found that 38 percent of women between the ages of 15 to 44 live in counties without a single abortion clinic. Additionally, as of June 2019, six states have only one abortion clinic remaining. As providers close due to the impact of medically unnecessary restrictions, women are likely to be forced to travel farther and make greater sacrifices to obtain access to care. In fact, history shows that many women will cross state lines, if they have the means to do so, when abortions are unavailable in their home states. For example, in the nearly three years between New York states liberalization of its abortion laws from 1970 to 1973 when the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade ruled that the right to choose was constitutionally protected close to 350,000 women came to New York from other states where abortions were entirely or largely unavailable. Unfortunately, however, the burden of living in a state with restrictive access to abortion care often falls disproportionately on lower-income women who cannot afford to travel, take time off from work, or find childcare while they visit their nearest provider.
The coalition goes on to assert that laws aimed specifically at restricting abortion providers have proved, time and time again, to lead to worse health outcomes for women, including:
Increased maternal mortality rates, Delayed abortions, as well as increased health risks and costs for women who find themselves too far from an abortion provider, The undertaking of dangerous "black market" or self-induced abortions by some women, and A four-times higher risk of developing potentially life-threatening health conditions for women who are forced to carry a pregnancy to term, as well as substantially greater likelihood of experiencing physical violence from abusive partners or family members.
The widely known negative effects of laws targeting abortion providers undermines any argument that such laws are intended to promote womens health.
The coalition finally argues that without the WHPA, a lack of consistency in access to abortion services will lead to unnecessary strain on the states health care systems. Many women will cross state lines, if they have the means to do so, when abortions are unavailable in their home states. In the wake of recent abortion restrictions, some states have experienced a substantial influx of out-of-state patients seeking abortions as a result of reduced access in their home states. Medically unnecessary restrictions targeting abortion providers create a disservice to womens health and safety and pose challenges for states that aim to provide a full range of reproductive health services.
Joining Attorney General Frey and Attorney General James in submitting this testimony to Congress are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
The testimony is attached.