Respect Women’s Abortion Decisions Act

Summary: The Respect Women’s Abortion Decisions Act would codify the fundamental right to abortion.

Background Summary

There is no Supreme Court ruling that has been subjected to such a well-organized and well-funded attack as Roe v. Wade. Since it was decided in 1973, Roe has been under constant attack. In just the past few years alone, state legislatures have enacted hundreds of measures restricting abortion.

The fate of Roe probably depends on the appointment of the next justice to the Supreme Court of the United States. There seems to be a narrow 5-4 majority on the Court in favor of upholding the fundamental right to abortion. But the retirement of a single justice could devastate that ruling.

A Supreme Court decision overturning Roe would not by itself make abortion illegal in the United States. Instead, a reversal of Roe would remove federal constitutional protection and give the states full power to set abortion policy.

If Roe was overturned, many states have laws on the books that might automatically criminalize all abortions. Each state depends on its own circumstances. Some states have abortion bans on the books that have never been repealed or blocked by the courts, some states have abortion bans that have been blocked by courts, and many states are highly vulnerable to the enactment of new bans by their legislatures. All told, perhaps 30 to 40 states might criminalize abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

Without access to safe, legal abortions, women will die. Maternal mortality dropped dramatically after Roe was decided in 1973. In the year after New York legalized abortion, maternal mortality decreased by 45 percent in New York City. Before Roe, an estimated 5,000 women died every year from the complications of illegal abortions. Throughout history, laws have never stopped abortions and without access to safe, early abortion, women will again turn to back-alley abortions—and thousands will die.

Without Roe, women and their doctors will be sent to prison. Women, their doctors, other healthcare workers, and anyone who helps a woman obtain an abortion could be prosecuted and sentenced to long prison terms without the protections of Roe. For example, under Alabama law, those who “aid or abet” an abortion may be sentenced to jail for up to 12 months with “hard labor.” Laws in Arizona and Oklahoma punish those who participate in an abortion procedure with two to five years in prison. Abortion is classified as a felony in Michigan, Mississippi and North Carolina. Before Roe, police raided the offices of doctors and arrested physicians, nurses and patients and, without Roe, this practice would resume.

States can and should enact statutes to protect abortion rights. Seven states have already codified the fundamental right to abortion: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Nevada and Washington. And polls have always shown that Americans overwhelmingly support the ruling in Roe v. Wade.


Model Legislation

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE

This Act shall be called the “Respect Women’s Abortion Decisions Act.”

SECTION 2. FINDINGS AND PURPOSE

(A) FINDINGS—The legislature finds that:

1)      In the case of Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S.113 (1973), the United States Supreme Court found that women’s fundamental right of privacy protects their right to decide whether to have an abortion.

2)      Today, about half of pregnancies are unintended; about 40 percent of those end in abortion.

3)      The decision to bear a child or obtain an abortion prior to the viability of the fetus should belong to the pregnant woman in consultation with her physician.

4)      As Roe v. Wade made clear, a fetus is not a “person.”

5)      A pregnant woman’s life and health are paramount and cannot be compromised as a result of any law or regulation governing abortion.

(B) PURPOSE—This law is enacted to protect a woman’s fundamental right to make the very personal decision of whether to obtain an abortion.

SECTION 3. GUARANTEE OF THE RIGHT TO ABORTION

After Section XXX, the following new section XXX shall be inserted:

(A) DEFINITIONS—In this section:

1)      “Abortion” means any medical treatment intended to induce the termination of a pregnancy except for the purpose of producing a live birth.

2)   “State” means the state and every county, city, town and municipal corporation, and quasi-municipal corporation in the state.

3)   “Viability” means the point in a pregnancy when, in the good faith medical judgment of a physician, on the particular facts of the case before that physician, there is a reasonable likelihood of the fetus’ sustained survival outside the uterus without the application of extraordinary medical measures.

(B) ACCESS TO REPRODUCTIVE SERVICES

1)      The State shall not deny a woman’s right to obtain an abortion as established by the United States Supreme Court in the decision Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S.113 (1973). Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, the state shall protect a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy prior to viability of the fetus or when necessary to protect a woman’s life or health as determined by a licensed physician.

2)      No prosecution or proceeding shall be brought or maintained under state criminal law or otherwise for acts that are authorized or permitted pursuant to this section.

SECTION 4. REPEAL

The following are repealed: [If there are provisions in existing law that are inconsistent with this Act, this section should repeal them. Examples of such language include pre-Roe bans on abortion or statements of legislative policy expressing disagreement with the Roe decision.]

SECTION 5. SEVERABILITY

The provisions of this Act shall be severable, and if any phrase, clause, sentence or provision is declared to be invalid or is preempted by federal law or regulation, the validity of the remainder of this Act shall not be affected.

SECTION 6. EFFECTIVE DATE

This Act shall take effect on XXXX 1, 2016

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