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A Guide to Congressional Action on Reproductive Rights

A Guide to Congressional Action on Reproductive Rights

Pink sign saying "Don't take away my breast cancer screenings" at rally

Over the past few weeks, there has been a big spotlight on women’s health and reproductive rights in Congress. A number of bills have been introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, which pose a threat to women’s healthcare in our country. Following all of the different news stories surrounding this issue can get confusing, so here is a guide to the major reproductive health legislation that you may have heard about during the month of September.

The 20 Week Ban:

What it is: The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H.R. 36/S. 1553) was an attempt by Members of Congress to ban abortions after 20-weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions only being made in the case of rape, incest or where the pregnancy endangers the woman’s life.

Why it’s harmful to women’s health: Many women who need access to abortions later than 20 weeks are often facing desperate circumstances, such as birth defects or fetal diseases which are undetectable until around this 20-week mark. Cutting off access to abortion at this time would leave many women without important health care options and services.

What happened with this bill? Although this bill passed in the House of Representatives, thankfully, it did not pass in the Senate when it was put to a vote on Tuesday September 22

Defunding Planned Parenthood:

What it is: Perhaps the most urgent of the legislation that seeks to limit reproductive rights and access to services for women are the efforts to defund the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA).

Why it’s harmful to women’s health: Cutting funding to Planned Parenthood clinics would be a sad path for our government to take. Millions of women of all ages and walks of life receive care from Planned Parenthood every year. Clinics provide sexuality education and services including cancer screenings, STI/STD testing, contraception and adoption services. Stripping Planned Parenthood of its funding would severely limit women from receiving all of these necessary forms of care and treatment that they deserve to have access to.

What is the latest update on this bill? On September 18, the House of Representatives passed the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015 (H.R. 3134), Today the Senate voted on a continuing resolution to fund the government, which included a rider that would have defunded Planned Parenthood. Fortunately, this did not pass, and hopefully a clean continuing resolution will be voted on soon. 

What does Reform Judaism teach about reproductive rights? As Reform Jews, we support the right of all women to make their own reproductive health care decisions, as we believe firmly that reproductive rights are a key component of women’s equality in broader society. Judaism teaches us that all life is sacred. While an unborn fetus is to be protected, the life and well-being of the mother is of the utmost importance, placing a higher value on existing life than on potential life. It is due to the fundamental Jewish belief in the sanctity of life that abortion is viewed as both a moral and correct decision under some circumstances. This same sanctity underscores the vital need for medically accurate sexuality education and for high-quality family planning services.

What action can I take? Urge your Senators to oppose legislation that would defund Planned Parenthood or otherwise curtail reproductive rights today!

Where can I learn more? To learn more about our work on reproductive rights, including further information on the Reform Jewish position on women’s health and reproductive rights, visit the RAC’s Women’s Rights Issues Page here. You can also look at Planned Parenthood’s Action Center or The Center for Reproductive Right’s fact sheet on 20-week abortion bans to learn more about these issues. 

Tracy Wolf was a 2015-2016 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (the RAC), and currently serves as the RAC's Leadership Development Associate. Originally from Syosset, N.Y., she is a member of North Shore Synagogue and a graduate of Dickinson College.

Tracy Wolf