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US House of Representatives votes to restore abortion rights

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Andrew Harnik/AP)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Andrew Harnik/AP)

The US House of Representatives has voted to restore abortion rights nationwide in Democrats’ first legislative response to the Supreme Court’s landmark decision overturning Roe v Wade.

The bill has little chance of becoming law, with the necessary support lacking in the 50-50 Senate.

But voting marks the beginning of a new era in the debate as politicians, governors and legislatures grapple with the impact of the court’s decision.

House Abortion
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accompanied by female House Democrats (Andrew Harnik/AP)

The legislation passed 219-210. The House was also voting on a separate bill to prohibit punishment for a woman or child who decides to travel to another state to get an abortion.

“Just three weeks ago the Supreme Court took a wrecking ball to the fundamental rights by overturning Roe v Wade,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ahead of the votes, gathering with other Democratic women on the steps of the Capitol.

“It is outrageous that 50 years later, women must again fight for our most basic rights against an extremist court.”

Republicans spoke forcefully against the bills, praising the Supreme Court’s decision and warning that the legislation would go further than Roe ever did when it comes to legalising abortion.

Urging her colleagues to vote no, Washington Rep Cathy McMorris Rodgers called abortion “the greatest human rights issue of our generation”.

She said the Democratic legislation “has nothing to do with protecting the health of women. It has everything to do with forcing an extreme agenda on the American people”.

By overturning Roe, the court has allowed states to enact strict abortion limits, including many that had previously been deemed unconstitutional.

The ruling is expected to lead to abortion bans in roughly half the states.

Already, a number of Republican-controlled states have moved quickly to curtail or outlaw abortion, while states controlled by Democrats have sought to champion access.

Voters now rank abortion as among the most pressing issues facing the country, a shift in priorities that Democrats hope will reshape the political landscape in their favour for the midterm elections.

This is the second time the House has passed the bill, which would expand on the protections Roe had previously provided by banning what supporters say are medically unnecessary restrictions that block access to safe and accessible abortions.

It would prevent abortion bans earlier than 24 weeks, which is when foetal viability, the ability of a human foetus to survive outside the uterus, is generally thought to begin.

It allows exceptions for abortions after foetal viability when a provider determines the life or health of the mother is at risk.

The Democrats’ proposal would also prevent states from requiring providers to share “medically inaccurate” information, or from requiring additional tests or waiting periods, often aimed at dissuading a patient from having an abortion.

The bill that would prohibit punishment for traveling out of state would also specify that doctors cannot be punished for providing reproductive care outside their home state.

Democrat Lizzie Fletcher, one of the bill’s authors, said the threats to travel “fail to reflect the fundamental rights that are granted in our Constitution”.