Durbin: Roe v. Wade's Reversal Created A Health Care Crisis

In a speech on the Senate floor, Durbin reflects on the Judiciary Committee hearing on a post-Roe America and announces his support for the Freedom to Travel for Health Care Act of 2022

WASHINGTON – In a speech on the Senate floor, U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today reflected on one of the most consequential and disastrous Supreme Court terms in American history. Specifically, Durbin outlined how the Court’s radical opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization puts lives at risk, overwhelms our health care system, and upends our constitutional landscape.

“Our nation is in the midst of a health care crisis because of this Dobbs decision,” Durbin said. “In the weeks since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, erasing the long-standing constitutional right to abortion, pregnant women across America have been thrust into chaos. From the moment this decision came down, abortion was declared illegal in nearly 12 states. Some of these state abortion bans make no exception, even for cases of rape and incest. And even when exceptions are made to save the life of the mother, they are confusing and leave medical professionals uncertain of their legal status. The sad reality is that these laws will most certainly result in pregnant women in danger—especially women of color.”

Earlier this week, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing examining the legal consequences of the Dobbs decision and the chaos created by overturning Roe—including the criminalization of providers and potentially patients. Witnesses included Dr. Colleen McNicholas, an OB-GYN doctor and abortion provider who practices in both Illinois and the neighboring state of Missouri. During her testimony, she informed the Committee that demand for care at her facility in Illinois had tripled since Roe was overturned. 

Durbin continued, “Dr. McNicholas told the Committee, and I quote, ‘When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, they effectively created two nations—one where those reproductive freedoms belong to themselves, and those with reproductive freedom that belongs to a small group of politicians who have effectively appointed themselves as the decision-makers over the bodies, and lives, and futures of women.’”

Democrats have already taken steps fight for reproductive freedom, including the first two Congressional hearings on a post-Roe America in the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP). In the executive branch, the Biden Administration issued an executive order protecting access to reproductive health care services. Subsequently, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued clarifying guidance underscoring that existing federal law requires emergency rooms across the country to do everything within their power to save the lives of pregnant women experiencing life-threatening complications—and that federal law supersedes any regressive state law that bans abortion.

In addition, HHS issued additional guidance to pharmacies clarifying their obligations to ensure access to comprehensive reproductive health care services, including FDA-approved birth control treatments. Additionally, the Administration established a Reproductive Rights Task Force within the Justice Department, which will monitor and evaluate state and local legislation and enforcement actions that threaten to, among other things, infringe on federal legal protections related to seeking reproductive care or impair a patient’s ability to seek reproductive care in states where it is legal.

On the legislative front, in addition to the Women’s Health Protection Act, Senate Democrats this week introduced the Freedom to Travel for Health Care Act of 2022. This legislation would make it crystal clear that it is illegal for anti-choice states to limit travel for abortion services, and would empower the Attorney General and impacted individuals to bring civil action against those who restrict a woman’s right to cross state lines to receive legal reproductive care.

Durbin continued, “Women and health care providers are counting on us to pass this bill… because the anti-choice legislatures who have already outlawed abortion in their state are not content with what they’ve done already. In fact, right now, they are proposing legislation that would turn many state borders into Checkpoint Charlie in America. These lawmakers are hell-bent on denying women fundamental freedoms—no matter how many constitutional rights they infringe upon.”

Durbin concluded, “Will we allow [states] to penalize and prosecute health care professionals who provide essential care to their patients in states where abortion remains legal? Are we going to allow these lawmakers to hold American citizens hostage in their own states, forcing them to give birth? Does that sound like the America that we know? No, it doesn't—and we need to draw the line here and now by passing the Freedom to Travel for Health Care Act of 2022.” 

Video of Durbin’s floor speech is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s floor speech is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s floor speech is available here for TV Stations.