US Senate Hearing Highlights Impacts of ‘Horrific Anti-Abortion Crusade’

Sen. Patty Murray described the event as "a close accounting of the trauma Republicans are inflicting on women and families across our country, and the damage they are doing to basic reproductive healthcare."

By Jessica Corbett | 4 June 2024
Common Dreams

(Credit: YouTube / screengrab)

Abortion rights advocates in the U.S. Senate held a Tuesday hearing highlighting the impacts of healthcare bans imposed by the GOP, particularly since the Supreme Court’s June 2022 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which reversed Roe v. Wade.

The hearing—titled, “The Assault on Women’s Freedoms: How Abortion Bans Have Created a Healthcare Nightmare Across America”—was officially hosted by Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), but he kicked it off by explaining why he was turning things over to Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the panel’s former leader.

“Given the subject matter I think it’s appropriate for a woman to chair this important hearing and this is an issue that Sen. Murray has been deeply and passionately involved in for many, many years,” Sanders said, connecting the fight for abortion access to women’s battles for other basic rights, including equal pay and political representation. “Sen. Murray, the gavel is yours.”

Murray described the hearing as “a close accounting of the trauma Republicans are inflicting on women and families across our country, and the damage they are doing to basic reproductive healthcare through their horrific anti-abortion crusade.”

With Republican politicians’ recently implemented abortion bans and restrictions, “they have told women on no uncertain terms, ‘You don’t control your body, we do.’ That is horrifying,” she said. “The consequences of the post-Dobbs abortion bans are so much broader and so much more devastating than any one story or hearing can ever do justice.”

Murray mentioned a story shared by Dr. Neelima Sukhavasi last month when Louisiana lawmakers were considering whether to add rape and incest exceptions to the state’s strict abortion ban (they didn’t). Recalling a rape survivor giving birth, the OB-GYN said, “One of these teenagers delivered a baby while clutching a Teddy Bear—and that’s an image that once you see that, you can’t unsee it.”

The senator stressed that “these nightmares are happening across our country and there are so many other stories that go untold.”

“It is harrowing to think that we live in a reality where forced pregnancy has become so widespread and so rampant that only the most dystopian stories get national attention—but the stories of all the other women who are confronted by these bans, their pain, their heartbreak, their anger and fear, are also horrific, valid, and an important part of the conversation,” she continued. “A forced pregnancy does not have to make headlines to make someone’s life a living hell.”

The committee heard from two Physicians for Reproductive Health fellows who provide abortion care—Drs. Nisha Verma of Georgia and Allison Linton, chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin—as well as Guttmacher Institute acting co-CEO Destiny Lopez and Madysyn Anderson, a patient who had to leave her home in Houston, Texas to end a pregnancy.

The panel also heard from two witnesses called by Ranking Member Bill Cassidy (R-La.), a gastroenterologist who calls himself “unapologetically pro-life”: Indiana-based Dr. Christina Francis, CEO of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and Melissa Ohden, founder and CEO of the Abortion Survivors Network.

Anderson was the first to provide testimony. She spoke about finding out she was pregnant during her senior year at the University of Houston, shortly after a breakup. She made an appointment at a nearby Planned Parenthood clinic, where she found out she was 11 weeks pregnant—too far along to get an abortion in Texas, even before the Dobbs decision.

“I called 20 different clinics after my first visit. Yes, 20. I called surrounding states and even as far as the Dakotas. No one could see me right away. The earliest I could be seen was two weeks later at Jackson Women’s Health Organization in Mississippi,” she said. “My dad took off work and we drove 720 miles and spent 13 hours on the road. We spent five hours in a hotel trying to sleep before my first appointment just to turn right around and go back home.”

Because of Mississippi laws at the time, she had to make another trip for the procedure. In addition to missing hours of work and an internship—and having to disclose the reason to her boss and professors—Anderson had to pay $2,850 for her appointments and travel. She said that “there is no dollar value I can put on the stress of managing everything.”

As of May 1, 14 U.S. states had total abortion bans and 27 states had prohibitions based on gestational duration, according to Lopez’s group, which tracks reproductive rights policies. Some states are going even further. Louisiana, for example, recently passed a law to classify two drugs used in medication abortions—mifepristone and misoprostol—as controlled dangerous substances, a move opposed by hundreds of healthcare providers.

Lopez emphasized that the drugs are “safe and effective,” and framed the Louisiana law as “simply an effort to make abortion more difficult to attain,” which she said will impact “folks who are already marginalized” by our healthcare system.

Verma similarly stressed that “medication abortion is incredibly safe and effective” and warned of misinformation shared by people including Cassidy’s witnesses about topics such as so-called “abortion reversal,” recalling one study that had to be stopped early because participants were experiencing dangerous bleeding.

The doctors talked about a range of other related issues including difficulties treating patients post-Dobbs; the fact that, as Linton put it, “we already have maternity care deserts” and they are expected to increase, as doctors flee states with restrictions; and, Verma noted, the distances that people are forced to travel for abortion care are “getting further and further.”

The Supreme Court—whose makeup remains the same as when the Dobbs decision was handed down—is currently weighing two cases that could further restrict abortion care nationwide: one involving mifepristone and another regarding whether abortions are considered “necessary stabilizing treatment” for patients experiencing emergencies.

In Congress, Republicans continue to push for restrictions on abortion—and advocates warn that in vitro fertilization and contraception are also at risk. Reproductive rights are also dominating the contest for the White House, with former GOP President Donald Trump bragging about the role he played in reversing Roe.

Democratic President Joe Biden, meanwhile, continues to emphasize that he supports abortion rights. Murray made clear during Tuesday’s hearing that party members are determined to keep fighting for reproductive freedom.

The divided Senate is set to vote Wednesday on the Right to Contraception Act. Speaking after the hearing, Murray said that “the message here is a simple one: Do you support the right to contraception, or not? The vast majority of Americans absolutely do. Overwhelmingly! But what about Republicans?”

“One of the Republican witnesses at our hearing this morning—someone Republicans chose to bring in to represent their arguments—is actively working to ban basic forms of contraception,” she noted. “That should tell you a lot.”

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