WASHINGTON – At a Judiciary Committee hearing on the recently enacted Texas law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) emphasized the need to safeguard women’s health care and highlighted efforts to undermine the constitutional protections enshrined in Roe v. Wade.
In an exchange with Texas State Representative Donna Howard, a former registered nurse, Klobuchar asked about the expected impact if the “law causes health clinics to close.” Howard responded that “it’s beyond abortions, because most of these clinics also provide preventative health care for women. So we’re talking about a state that already has limited access, not enough providers, has not expanded Medicaid coverage, we have very much difficulty now with women getting the health care that they need, this is going to make it even worse.”
Klobuchar also highlighted how the Supreme Court’s practice of issuing decisions in the “middle of the night” – also known as the “shadow docket” – on issues “that are so fundamental to people’s rights” erodes public confidence in the Court, noting that “the Texas case is just the most recent example of the Supreme Court issuing, short, unsigned 5-4 decisions without full briefing or oral argument that directly impact people’s lives.”
Sen. Klobuchar: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, I appreciate this. Representative Howard, it’s good to see you again. And Justice Sotomayor described the Texas law as a “flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their rights.” You are a former registered nurse, you are chair of the Texas House Women’s Health Caucus. Can you briefly say a bit more about what you’ve seen on the ground in Texas since the Texas law took effect four weeks ago?
Rep. Howard: Yes, thank you Senator. We’ve seen and heard from constituents across the state about their inability to access care, trying to get to a clinic before a six-week period of time, getting there, having the transvaginal sonogram, and actually hearing the audible sound and being turned away. The providers are saying that they’re doing crisis counseling now for these people who are coming with their unwanted pregnancies, unable to terminate them and desperate about what they are going to be able to do.
Sen. Klobuchar: And if the law causes health clinics to close, what’s the impact on your state?
Rep. Howard: Well, it’s beyond abortions, because most of these clinics also provide preventative health care for women. So we’re talking about a state that already has limited access, not enough providers, has not expanded Medicaid coverage, we have very much difficulty now with women getting the health care that they need, this is going to make it even worse.
Sen. Klobuchar: Exactly. Ms. Graves, I’m concerned about what Justice Sotomayor described as the Texas law’s creation of Texas bounty hunters, citizen bounty hunters who are offered, in her words, “cash prizes for civilly prosecuting their neighbors’ medical procedures,” which is exactly what this is. That’s why I’m working with a number of senators on this committee to lead a bill Representative Sheila Jackson Lee is leading in the House, to allow judges to enhance the penalty for people who are convicted of stalking women in an attempt to get their private health information. Can you talk about the threat to women’s safety that is created by the incentives in the Texas law to collect health care-related information?
Ms. Graves: You know, Senator, I share that concern in part because abortion access already happens in a backdrop where there is a long history of vigilante violence without that bounty, without that incentive. And I’m extremely concerned about the policing of women’s bodies in this way by their neighbors, by strangers, by anyone in the general populace.
Sen. Klobuchar: Very good, and along those same lines, can you say more about how the Texas law is a part of a larger effort to undermine the protections of Roe v. Wade?
Ms. Graves: Well, one of the things that Representative Howard had named is that this isn’t the first restriction. We have seen hundreds of restrictions pass over the last decade, and in isolation, one of these types of restriction might harm someone, might help shut a clinic down, might make it, might force you to go deeper into your pregnancy or have to travel hundreds of miles. These restrictions are happening on top of each other in places like Texas, so for many people, abortion is already out of reach.
Sen. Klobuchar: Okay, and my last question, Professor Vladeck, the Texas case is just the most recent example of the Supreme Court issuing short, unsigned 5-4 decisions without full briefing or oral argument that directly impact people's lives. We’ve actually seen this with voting rights, where one day before Wisconsin’s primary election, the Court issued a 5-4 decision reversing a District Court’s order which allowed voters an extra 6 days to cast absentee ballots in the middle of a pandemic. Instead, we saw the voters standing in long lines, in garbage bags and homemade masks in a rainstorm. So what does it mean for public confidence in the Court, when it issues decisions that are so fundamental to people's rights, including endangering voters’ health and undermining women's access to healthcare in the middle of the night on a shadow docket?
Prof. Vladeck: I think I can’t do much, Senator, and I think the less the Court explains itself, the harder it is for the public to have confidence in these decisions, unless, Senator, all we’re doing is tallying up the score, and all we’re doing is figuring out who won and who lost. And that’s why, you know, in response to the Ranking Member, I guess my response is, you know, the Court has brought this upon itself. That if the Court is worried about public confidence, one of the things it can do is try to restore that confidence by at least endeavoring to explain its decisions in these contexts more fully.
Sen. Klobuchar: Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
# # #