The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing Tuesday morning on the possible legal ramifications of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
The hearing, titled, “A Post-Roe America: The Legal Consequences of the Dobbs Decision,” focused on the legal concerns nationwide after the high court’s decision to send abortion rights back to the states.
In his opening remarks, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair, Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., outlined the possinle consequences of the Supreme court’s ruling that ended the constitutional right to an abortion.
“A woman facing complications in pregnancy could die waiting in the hallway of a hospital because a doctor must weigh the risk of jail time,” said Durbin.
In constrast, Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Republican Senator Chuck Grassley R-Iowa, celebrated the high court’s decision, saying that the high court “corrected a wrong that has impacted millions of lives since 1973.”
Grassley focused some of his opening statement on the need to protect Supreme Court justices, anti-abortion rights institutions and pregnancy centers from possible violent attacks in response to the Roe v. Wade decision.
A recent memo from the Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence arm said that domestic violent extremism is “likely” in response to the Supreme Court’s decision. Government officials, including Supreme Court justices, are likely those most at risk, the memo said.
Durbin also condemned the threats of violence against the justices and took the time to draw attention to the Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act, which includes provisions for protecting private identification information about Justices. The bill is currently being held up on the floor.
“One of the most important bills … would give the Supreme Court police greater discretion in protecting these justices,” said Durbin on Tuesday. “The person holding it up is a junior Republican Senator from Kentucky,” he said, alluding to Senator Rand Paul, R-Ky., who recently blocked the bill for the third time.
Five witnesses spoke during the hearing on Tuesday, including Juliana Stratton, the Lieutenant Governor of Illinois, Law Professor Khiara Bridges, Chief Medical Officer of Planned Parenthood Dr. Colleen McNicholas, Denise Harle, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, and Heidi Matzke, executive director of the Alternatives Pregnancy Center.
Lt. Gov. Stratton highlighted the role Illiinois plays as an “island of reproductive care” in the Midwest. In Illinois, abortion remains legal as a result of Democratic Governor JB Pritzker signing the Reproductive Health Act enshrining reproductive rights into Illinois state law in 2019.
“I come before you today because people throughout the entire Midwest are relying on our commitment to protect and preserve women’s rights — namely the right to an abortion,” said Stratton in her testimony.
Since the Supreme Court decision, the number of out-of-state patients seeking abortions in Illinois has doubled, explained Stratton, with patients coming from every surrounding state but also as far away as Tennessee, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida.
Stratton urged President Biden to create “a centralized hub for providers and patients to ease the burden on facility capacity amid higher demand” and to provide “more access to federal money to support demand.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said in the hearing that their states, where abortion is still legal, will see an increase in demand of patients seeking abortions following the Supreme Court decision.
“States like Connecticut and Illinois face an impending surge of women seeking their rights, healthcare rights, reproductive rights, human rights, in our states,” said Blumenthal. “What we face is an unprecedented cost to our healthcare system.”
Lt. Gov. Stratton also outlined how overturning Roe v. Wade will have a negative impact on many women and lead to potential loss of life, particularly women of color.
“A post-Roe America will be devastating for Black women, whose maternal mortality rate is already two to three times higher than that of white women because of structural racism and misogyny,” said Stratton in her testimony. “One study… projects that without access to safe and legal abortions, that number will increase by over 30 percent among Black women and nearly 20 percent for Hispanic women.”
“We are facing a future rife with needless death,” she added.
Khiara Bridges, Professor of Law at UC Berkely School of Law, also told the panel that Supreme Court’s decision will disproportionately harm people of color. “People of color, specifically black people, will feel the court’s decision more than any other racial group,” said Bridges.
During the hearing, Bridges urged Congress to repeal the Hyde Amendment, a legislative provision barring the use of federal bunds to pay for abortion and pass the Women’s Health Protection Act which would protect the right to abortion access throughout the United States.
In addition, Bridges stressed the importance of introducing a “bold, holistic and intersectional policy response that puts within its range of vision everything from the need for comprehensive paid family and medical leave to laws that urgently protect the right to vote.”
Dr. Colleen McNicholas, Chief Medical Officer of Planned Parenthood of the St Louis Region and Southwest Missouri also testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
“I practice in Missouri and Illinois, two states where people are living vastly different realities,” said Dr. McNicholas in her testimony.
Under Missouri’s trigger law that went into effect after the Supreme Court ruling, abortion is only permitted in the state in cases of medical emergencies. Dr. McNicholas told the committee on Tuesday that Missouri’s law causes challenges for doctors and safety risks for pregnant people.
“In order for doctors to avoid prison time, instead of treating a patient before their health condition becomes life-threatening, doctors must now contemplate, how sick is sick enough before providing life-saving abortion care?” said Dr. McNicholas.
“When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, they effectively created two nations,” she said. “One where those whose reproductive freedom belongs to themselves, and those whose reproductive freedom belongs to a small group of politicians who have effectively appointed themselves as decision-makers over our bodies, our lives and our futures.”
Dr. McNicholas pointed out that the six states that have the highest maternal mortality rates are the six states that immediately moved to ban abortions. “That is not a coincidence,” she added.
On the other side of the aisle, the Republicans brought in two witnesses for Tuesday’s hearing, Denise Harle, Director of the Center For Life, and Heidi Matzke, executive director of the Alternatives Pregnancy Center in California.
Speaking of the Supreme Court decision, Harle stated that the decision has empowered states “to protect life at its earliest stages and to better ensure that women are valued and supported and not subject to a dangerous, irreversible and life-altering procedure.”
“Pregnancy is not a barrier to success,” said Harle. “You have no rights if you don’t have the right to life.”
“It’s entirely reasonable and right for Americans to protect these tiny humans, and the American citizens are prepared to do so,” added Harle.
When asked by Senator Cory Booker, D-N.J., if she would support a national abortion ban, Harle replied “I think our laws should protect all human life. Yes.”
“We need to be pointing pregnant moms toward really help 1,000’s of pregnancy centers around the nation stand ready to support women at no cost with tangible services, both during and after a mother’s pregnancy,” said Harle.
Heidi Matzke of the California-based Alternatives Pregnancy Center, one of around 3,000 such centers in the country, spoke of misinformation that she said has been spread about pregnancy centers.
According to abortion rights activists, Pregnancy Centers, also sometimes known as crisis pregnancy centers, exist to counsel women against ending their pregnancies.
Matzke pushed back on this theory, testifying that “when a woman comes in…we don’t urge her to make a decision. We listen. We try to hear her heart. We offer professional services and emotional and spiritual support.”
Matzke also mentioned a recent incident that occurred at her pregnancy center just after the Supreme Court decision. “Pregnancy care centers from coast to coast are being targeted for violent assaults of vandalism and hateful attacks online,” said Matzke. “Just last week, a man approached our care center with an armed machete… We have been forced to hire 24-hour onside security.”
During the hearing, Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ark., also focused on discussing the recent attacks on Supreme Court justices and pro-life organizations.
In response, Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton condemned all acts of violence but urged the Senator to bring the same energy to the attacks that are “taking place against abortion providers and clinics,” she said.
In his closing remarks, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair, Senator Dick Durbin, D-Il., said that there will be many more hearings on this subject in the coming weeks and months.