Sep 24, 2021
Women’s Health Protection Act Press Conference: Pelosi, Democrats for Abortion Rights
Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats held a press conference on September 24, 2021 in support of the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA), a bill to protect the right of all Americans to access abortion. Read the transcript of the news briefing speech here.
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Rep. Diana DeGette: (00:00)
I’m first, okay. Good morning, everybody. Thank you so much for being with us on this historic day. I’m Diana DeGette from Colorado, and I’m the co-chair of the Pro-Choice Caucus in Congress along with my compadre Barbara Lee right here. And we are so pleased to be here with you, because today, the House of Representatives is taking a stand. For the first time in history, we will be passing legislation that protects a woman’s right to choose. For more than 50 years, women across this country have had the ability to access the abortion care they need because of a landmark decision made right over there in the US Supreme Court. But that right is being threatened, and no longer do millions of women have the same ability and freedom to have the full range of reproductive care that they need.
Rep. Diana DeGette: (01:05)
For women in Texas, right now, the legal precedent set by Roe v. Wade is essentially meaningless. For people in Mississippi, the right to abortion care that the Constitution provides will soon no longer exist. And sadly, those women are not alone. If we don’t act fast, women’s ability to access abortion care throughout the country could become a thing of the past. In just the last decade, anti-choice politicians in states across the country have enacted nearly 500 state-based abortion restrictions. And as a result, today, nearly 90% of counties in this country no longer have a single abortion provider. Enough is enough. If the justices over in that building there won’t act, the US House of Representatives will act. The decision whether to have an abortion is one that should be made between a patient and their doctor, period, end of story. Studies have shown that denying access to abortion care, just like denying access to any important medical procedure, can have a profound impact on a person’s mental and physical health.
Rep. Diana DeGette: (02:32)
A woman denied an abortion is three times more likely to fall into poverty as a result. And while abortion restrictions like the ones in Texas and Mississippi apply to everybody, they disproportionately impact women of color, those working to end meet, and people who live in more rural parts of the country where healthcare is less available. So this bill ensures that all Americans, no matter what their race, no matter their socioeconomic position, no matter where they live, will have equal access and freedom to get the care that they need. It will negate the Texas and Mississippi laws, and it will guarantee that all women in this country once again have the ability and the freedom to decide what’s best for them. But maybe the most important thing this bill will do is it will end our reliance on the courts to protect people for the medical care that they need and deserve.
Rep. Diana DeGette: (03:45)
The American public has spoken on this issue, and they’re squarely behind us, despite what our opponents say. The vast majority of Americans in recent studies show that Americans support a woman’s right to access the abortion care they need. And our willingness to fight for that right is why they elected all of us to serve here in the first place. You know what? I couldn’t be more proud to serve among a more courageous group of people. Like so many in this country, we know what’s at stake in this fight. We know that we’re standing here today not on our own accord, but the shoulders of the people that we represent, and we owe it to all of them to continue this fight.
Rep. Diana DeGette: (04:33)
I owe it to my two daughters to continue this fight. We owe it to the generations of women who came before us, and whose fearless courage helps secure these rights in the first place to continue what they started. Fighting for equality, equity, and justice is why we’re here, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do. The first step today is to pass Representative Chu’s Women’s Health Protection Act, and we are so excited to be able to do that. I’m now honored to introduce my co-chair, my partner in all of this, Congresswoman Barbara Lee.
Rep. Barbara Lee: (05:20)
Thank you very much, and good morning. Let me thank co-chair Congresswoman Diana DeGette for that very kind introduction, and also for your tremendous leadership. We do have the largest Pro-Choice Caucus in history in the House of Representatives, and in large part is due to so many members standing right here today. So I just want to thank you so much. Also, let me just say how important it is that we have a speaker who is the first, of course, woman speaker, who has been relentless in her fight for reproductive freedom. Today is a day really of great consequence as we pass the Women’s Health Protection Act. And I just have to salute and thank Congresswoman Judy Chu once again for her tremendous leadership and persistence, and never, never thinking that this day would not come. This legislation could not be more important at this truly inflection point in abortion rights. The right to reproductive freedom is essential.
Rep. Barbara Lee: (06:21)
It’s a constitutional right. And make no mistake, extreme and dangerous laws like SB8 in Texas will harm people of low incomes and people of color the most, and will eventually, mind you, eventually take abortion rights away from all people that need access to them. Restricting and banning abortion has been made nearly impossible for so many people in Texas. Let’s be clear: the right to abortion is not real if only some people can access it. There will always be some people who can pay to travel to other states for care and take time off of work, but many will not be able to, and this puts the health of our communities in jeopardy. It’s only a matter of time before other states with anti-choice Republican legislatures and governors simultaneously restricting access to the healthcare and legislating control of people’s bodies follow Texas in imposing dangerous abortion restrictions.
Rep. Barbara Lee: (07:25)
If we stand by while these attacks continue, we are truly at risk of seeing different Americas, where abortion is legal in some states and fully outlawed in others. And it is clearly unconstitutional and unethical to create a vigilante system that encourages you to turn in your family members, your neighbors, and anyone else if you suspect that they had an abortion. That’s why our work today in Congress is so incredibly important. We must step up and protect abortion rights around the country. Now, I remember the days of unsafe abortions very well. I know personally how devastating the consequences of restrictive abortion laws can be. We cannot and will not go back to those days.
Rep. Barbara Lee: (08:14)
With extreme laws like in Texas, the Supreme Court poised to reconsider unfortunately Roe itself, and the upcoming Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, it’s clear that Congress needs to step up and defend our rights today, and that’s what we’re going to do. And Speaker Pelosi, I just want to thank you once again for your leadership and standing strong for reproductive freedom forever. So it’s now more important than ever to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, and we need to send a message to anti-choice politicians that it is our body, mind you. It’s our body, and it is our choice, and we won’t stop fighting until our rights are protected. So thank you. I now pass this onto my sister, the PCC Abortion Access Task Force chair, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, a woman who has hit the ground running when she came to Congress to protect the rights of the most vulnerable and the marginalized. Thank you again.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley: (09:18)
Very appropriate and surreal that my big sister and the prior chair of the Abortion Rights and Access Task Force who passed that mantle to me also just passed the microphone. I do want to thank Diana DeGette, Barbara Lee, Judy Chu, Jan Schakowsky. They have been stalwarts in this fight for bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom, and it is an honor to do this work in partnership with them. I want to thank our speaker as well for her vigilance and for bringing us all together this morning for this truly historic vote. I’m proud to stand alongside my colleagues today as co-lead of this critically important piece of legislation, and again as chair of the Abortion Rights and Access Task Force of the Pro-Choice Caucus. This is not only the biggest Pro-Choice Caucus in the history of Congress, this is the first pro-choice majority Congress. And today we affirm that that means something.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley: (10:13)
Today, I want to recognize the advocates and the grassroots organizers, who for decades have organized, mobilized, and fought back against these attacks on our liberty, our humanity, and our bodily autonomy. I’m so proud to be in this urgent fight alongside you. Let’s make it plain: abortion care is a fundamental human right. Over the last decade, we have seen more than 500 abortion bans pushed through state legislatures, and the catastrophic consequences have targeted our most vulnerable. We know these bans don’t prevent all abortions. What they do is simply put safe, necessary medical care out of reach, specifically for our lowest-income sisters, our queer, trans, and non-binary siblings, Black, Brown, AAPI, and indigenous people. SCOTUS had the chance to call SB8 for what it is: a blatant violation of the constitutional rights of nearly 7 million Texans. But from voting rights to housing rights to reproductive freedom, it is clear that the courts are not on the people’s side. But this Congress is.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley: (11:31)
So Congress has a responsibility to act. This is our moment to make this pro-choice Democratic majority House, Senate, and White House be more than a talking point. This is our moment to step up and to urgently affirm that reproductive rights are human rights by codifying the right to abortion care. Today, the people’s House will pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, and we will be one step closer to doing just that. I call on Senate Leader Schumer and President Biden to quickly advance this bill in the Senate, and to sign it into law. Every day that passes without congressional action, more and more people are denied their constitutional right to medical care. We must act with urgency and legislate as if lives depend on it, because they do. And next, I will invite up to the dias my classmate and a long-time justice-seeker, Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia of Texas.
Rep. Sylvia Garcia: (12:38)
Good morning. Buenos dias. I’m Sylvia Garcia, and I’m from Houston. I am a native Texan, I am Catholic, and I am pro-choice. Today will be a historic day for the women of Texas and across the country. Today, Congress will take a definitive step toward protecting Roe v. Wade and freedom for millions of women to decide their reproductive freedom. This month in my home state of Texas, one of the cruelest, cruelest violations of women’s constitutional reproductive rights went into effect. This law effectively bans all abortions in Texas, and sets a bounty of $10,000 for anyone, anyone in the country who denounces in the filed suit against a woman seeking an abortion or anyone that helps her in any way. Already, two lawsuits have been filed. This horrible ban is already affecting women’s health in Texas, particularly with low-income Black and Latino women suffering the most. In South Texas, where I grew up, Latinas and immigrants already fear deportation, and face huge barriers to abortion.
Rep. Sylvia Garcia: (14:05)
And now with this bill, now they’ve got to worry about distance, cost, travel restrictions, mandatory 24-hour period, mandatory sonogram, and border patrol checkpoints, making a very difficult private decision even more difficult. Last week, I visited my local Planned Parenthood and heard horrible stories, horrible stories about what women are facing with this bill in effect. In fact, I heard one story that one woman has gone to the internet and found an abortion tea. Madam Speaker, an abortion tea. That’s a tea, I’m a tea drinker, that I’ve never tried, and I hope I never have to. And I can tell you this: it gave the woman complications, but she had no choice. And what’s worse, it starts today of a search through the internet and with abortion tea. What will be next?
Rep. Sylvia Garcia: (15:09)
Will we go back to the dark ages of back-alley abortions, hangers, and worse things? We can not put women at risk, because what happens today is not only unacceptable, it’s unconstitutional and unconscionable. I trust women to make their own decisions. This Congress should do the same. Governments have no right to get involved with such a private personal matter. It should be a question between the woman, her doctor, her family, her faith, and the people around her in her network system. Safe, legal abortion should be the floor, not the ceiling. [foreign language 00:15:52]. Let’s go now and pass this bill, and let’s get the Senate to approve it, and finally, our president to sign it. Thank you to all the women that are behind me. Without their strong leadership, we would not be here today. And with that, I now yield to the sponsor of this bill, someone who has been working on this for many years, as many of these women behind me have, Representative Judy Chu of California.
Rep. Judy Chu: (16:42)
Thank you so much. I’m honored to be the lead coauthor of the Women’s Health Protection Act along with my incredible coauthors, Congress members Lois Frankel, Ayanna Pressley, and Veronica Escobar. And I’m proud to have the support of 214 co-sponsors of this bill, which… Yes, it’s incredible, and it includes our members right here, Congress members Lori Trahan and Lizzie Fletcher. Thank you. Today’s vote has been a long time coming. Ever since Roe v. Wade recognized our right to make our own choices about our bodies, anti-choice advocates have been trying to devise new ways to make legal abortion care impossible to access. And in order to do so, they’ve adopted a two-pronged strategy. First, they steadily packed the courts at every level with anti-choice judges, culminating in the blatant court-packing under McConnell and Trump. Second, they’ve been crafting state laws designed to create a challenge to Roe for these judges to uphold.
Rep. Judy Chu: (18:01)
As a result, we’ve seen states introduce over 500 restrictions since 2011 alone, with 90 abortion restrictions passed just since the start of this year. It’s clear that we need one unified federal response to all of these attacks, which is why we are bringing the Women’s Health Protection Act to the House floor today. The Texas law is downright chilling. It deputizes vigilantes to harass anyone helping someone obtain an abortion, from a doctor to clinic staff to an Uber driver, and it prohibits abortions at six weeks, before most women know that they are pregnant, with no exception for incest or rape. But it’s not an outlier. The other hundreds of anti-choice laws that have been adopted have chipped away at Roe, and they’re all based in some way on bullying or harassing patients or doctors.
Rep. Judy Chu: (19:02)
For instance, mandatory ultrasounds, waiting periods, or funerals for fetuses are all meant to shame people who access abortion care, while needless requirements like wider doors or hospital admitting privileges are meant to make it harder for a doctor to be able to practice medicine, forcing them to close their doors or turn away patients. Worse, because of McConnell and Trump’s court-packing, there is now a Supreme Court willing to tolerate such blatant attacks on established precedent. And we know more attacks are coming with Mississippi’s 15-week ban coming up in December, but we cannot rely on Amy Coney Barrett or Brett Kavanaugh to confirm our rights for us. Congress must protect the rights of women and pregnant people in every zip code, putting an end to an attack on abortion once and for all. The Women’s Health Protection Act is how we do that. I’ve introduced the Women’s Health Protection Act since 2013 and in every Congress since then, because we knew this day would come.
Rep. Judy Chu: (20:18)
By establishing a federally protected right for providers to provide abortion care and for patients to receive that care, this bill prioritizes healthcare over politics. Whether or not someone gets an abortion is a choice that should be made by them freely in consultation with their doctor and their loved ones, period. So today, we take an important step. I want to thank my incredible co-leads and the Pro-Choice Caucus for their leadership and support in getting us here today. I’m proud to be standing up with so many incredible leaders as we fight for everyone’s freedom to access safe, legal abortion care, regardless of where they live. And speaking of incredible leaders, we have the greatest leader of them all. As soon as she heard of the Texas vigilante law, she said, “We will put the Women’s Health Protection Act on the floor.” She has shown for decades that she’s been on the side of women, children, and working families. She is fearless. She is our great champion. Let us bring up Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: (21:56)
Thank you very much, Judy Chu, for your kind introduction, which I accept on behalf of our Pro-Choice Democratic Caucus in the Congress, who has made today so possible. I associate myself with the remarks, of course, of Diana DeGette and Barbara Lee and Ayanna Pressley, and of course from Texas, two members from Texas, Congresswoman Castro… I’m saying Castro. Garcia as well. Now, when this law… I was with Diana DeGette the night the court spoke. We were in Colorado together. That night, that morning, I went to Texas. I was with the Congresswomen from Texas in Texas when the word of the court’s decision came out. And Congresswoman Trahan, thank you for joining this group of illustrious leaders on this subject. And I associate myself with the recognition of Jan Schakowsky as well. So anyway, in Colorado, in that morning that we learned the decision, Diana DeGette had the collective wisdom of the co-chairs of this caucus, and she gave me a chapter and verse.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: (23:13)
Now, Diana DeGette has fought this issue in the court and won in the courts, and won. She has fought it in the Congress. She is fighting it in the court of public opinion, and that leadership is what we all do. Barbara Lee talked about the injustice of it all, and Congresswoman Pressley as well talked about the injustice of it all for poor women in our country. If that isn’t shameful, if that isn’t shameful. And so anyway, this happens because of Judy Chu. We were ready, we are ready. So today is a day of mixed emotions, really happy that at long last we have a Pro-Choice House Democratic Caucus, which is a majority of the House, and a Democratic president to sign the bill. This is the first Congress that can make that claim, even though Judy Chu has introduced this bill over and over and over again. Pro-choice House Democrats, president of the United States to sign the bill, Democratic Senate, hopefully, to pass it as well.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: (24:23)
This is about freedom, about freedom of women to have choice about the size and timing of their families. Not the business of people on the court or members of Congress, about themselves. But it’s also about freedom from the danger of vigilantes. So when this court embraced this shameful Texas law, they brought shame to the United States Supreme Court, because there were now embracing something which was counter to the precedent of the court that has upheld Roe v. Wade as constitutional. They also embraced vigilante activities, dangerous to women’s health in the substance, dangerous to our communities. In the encouragement they gave to something so un-American, what were they thinking? Or were they thinking? Or were they just rubber stamping what they were sent to the court to do, which is to harm the health and wellbeing of America’s women? It’s a sign of such great disrespect, a sign of such great disregard for our system and our country that you do not put, foist, people onto each other, prying into their privacy, acting upon what they don’t even know the facts to be.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: (25:44)
And even if they did, it’s none of their business. It’s none of their business. So sad that we have to be here because of the shameful Supreme Court decision. Eager we have filed an amicus brief on the Mississippi case. We’ll see what comes of that. But at the same time, again, sad for the message it sends to women, especially for women who do not have the same ability to travel from one place to another, and neither should they. The rights that are guaranteed in our Constitution should not depend on geography. They should depend on justice. And that’s what we will have on the floor of the House today. So it was with joy that we accept the readiness that Judy Chu has given us with her relentless, relentless, relentless leadership on the subject, knowing that one day it would be urgent, and on that day, we would be ready.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: (26:39)
So let’s go in there and win this vote. The debate has begun. We should have a vote in an hour, and that should be a very positive message to the women of our country. But not just the women, to the women and their families, to everyone who values freedom, honors our Constitution, and respect women. I yield back, and yield back to Judy Chu. Right? Diana DeGette? I yield back to whoever wants to be there, with gratitude to all the others.
Rep. Diana DeGette: (27:09)
Madam Speaker, we were just saying the debate has already started. So maybe we can take a couple of questions, because we need to get in there and debate it.
Speaker 7: (27:17)
[inaudible 00:27:17] reference to the fact that this bill has come up because of Congresswoman Chu over the course of the last eight years. Still, these states are passing restrictive laws. Is there other recourse for federal [crosstalk 00:27:30]-
Rep. Diana DeGette: (27:30)
This bill has been introduced for eight years, but we never had a pro-choice majority till the last Congress in the US House of representatives. And the urgency was never as great as it is now, with the Texas law and the Mississippi law and the cascade of loss that we expect to see. And that’s why we’re bringing it up now. I’ll take one more question. Yes, ma’am.
Speaker 8: (27:56)
Thank you. Thanks to the-
Rep. Diana DeGette: (27:58)
Please say who you are.
Grace Segers: (28:00)
I’m Grace Segers with The New Republic. Thanks to the filibuster in the Senate though, are you concerned about the chances of this passing in the Senate? And what recourse do you have for that?
Rep. Diana DeGette: (28:11)
The vast majority Americans support Roe v. Wade, and they support a woman having the freedom to make her own healthcare decisions. And we believe that it’s a start here in the House. Just ask the speaker. We never do what we do out of some thought about what might happen in the Senate. We hope that when the Senate sees that this historic vote has taken place in the House, that they will act accordingly. Thank you, everybody, and we’re going to go debate this.