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Roe Roe v. Wade

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. CANTWELL. Mr. President, I rise today to speak to the issue of protecting a woman's right to choose. I am here to reiterate what the majority of us in the Senate clearly expressed this spring on behalf of women when we voted on an amendment to S. 3, sponsored by the good Senator from Iowa, my colleague Senator HARKIN.

That amendment—in no uncertain terms—reaffirmed the sense of the Senate that No. 1, abortion has been a legal and constitutionally protected medical procedure throughout the United States since the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade; and No. 2, the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade established constitutionally based limits on the power of States to restrict the right of a woman to choose to terminate a pregnancy.

Furthermore, the amendment firmly laid out the sense of the Senate that the decision of the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade was appropriate and secures an important constitutional right and that the decision should not be overturned.

Let me repeat that. A majority of my colleagues voted for the Senator HARKIN amendment. That the House remove the amendment from S. 3 is a travesty and I must vehemently disagree with that action. It is incumbent upon the majority of those of us in this chamber who affirm the constitutional right to choose to send a clear message to the House as the bill goes to conference that Roe is still—and will continue to be—the supreme law of the land. My colleague from the State of California, Senator Boxer, has been a true champion on this issue. She is an unwavering and tireless advocate for women, the country—and the world over. On Monday, she revisited how we found ourselves in the position we are now. As Senator Boxer explained, the House returned S. 3 to the Senate without the Harkin amendment affirming Roe.

Because S. 3 is at the heart of this issue, I would like to spend some of my time speaking to this underlying bill, which is undoubtedly and unfortunately going to end up on the President's desk and which the President will most assuredly sign.

If the President signs S. 3, he will be signing an unconstitutional measure into law. As I have said before, and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, Roe v. Wade held that women have a constitutional right to choose. However, after the point of viability—the point at which a baby can live outside its mother's body—States may ban abortion as long as they allow exceptions when a woman's life or health is in danger. Yet the legislation that comes before us and will go to the President lacks that important health exception and, therefore, fails to provide for a woman when her health or her life is in danger.

In June 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court reinforced the importance of this health exception in Stanberg v. Carhart, which determined that a Nebraska law banning the performance of so-called "partial birth" abortions violated the Roe ruling by the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court has stated unequivocally that every abortion restriction, including bans on so-called "partial birth abortion," must contain a health exception. The Court emphasized that, by failing to provide a health exception, the Nebraska law would place a woman's life in danger.

That is exactly what the legislation before us today does as well: It places a woman's life in danger.

Despite the Supreme Court's very clear mandate, this underlying legislation does not provide an exception for the health of the mother. For this reason, this legislation, like the measure that was struck down in Stenberg, is unconstitutional.

Moreover, this legislation imposes an undue burden on a woman's ability to choose by banning abortion procedures at any stage in a woman's pregnancy. This bill does not only ban post-viability abortions, it unconstitutionally restricts women's rights regardless of where the woman is in her pregnancy.

I fundamentally believe that private medical decision should be made by women in consultation with their doctors—not politicians. These decisions include the methods by which a physician chooses to treat his or her patients. Why should we decide that here on the Senate floor? Congressional findings cannot possibly make up for medical consultation between a patient and her doctor, but this will would undermine a physician's ability to determine the best course of treatment for a patient.

Physicians must be free to make clinical determinations, in accordance with medical standards of care, that best safeguard a woman's life and health. Women and their families, along with their doctors, are simply better than politicians at making decisions about their medical care. And I don't want to make those decisions for other women.

Three States, including my home State of Washington, have considered similar bans by referendum. All three failed. We considered this debate in my home State in 1998. The referendum failed decisively—by a vote of 57 to 43 percent.

These so-called "partial birth" abortion bans—whether the proposals that have been before the Senate in the past or the one before us today—are deliberately designed to erode the protections of Roe v. Wade, at the expense of women's health and at the expense of a woman's right to privacy.

The Supreme Court, during the 30 years since it recognized the right to choose, has consistently required that when a State restricts access to abortion, a woman's health must be the absolute consideration. This legislation does not only disavow the Supreme Court's explicit directive, but the advice of the medical community, and the will of the American people. We must continue to ensure that the woman of America have the right to privacy and receive the best medical attention available.

I urge my colleagues to disagree with the actions of the House and demand that the amendment expressing the Sense of the Senate that Roe v. Wade was rightly decided be included in S. 3.

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