On Wednesday, the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice held a hearing on a bill that has raised concern and criticism from pro-choice activists. Lawmakers are debating HR 490, which basically determines when it is valid to get an abortion. And yet, the discussion about women having reproductive freedom was dominated by men, a fact that was made clear by Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the only woman invited to speak on the abortion subcommittee.
"As the only woman on the dais, it was incredibly disturbing to see Republican men attempt to strip away my constitutional rights and privacy of women," Jayapal tells Bustle.
Iowa Rep. Steve King introduced the H.R. 490 bill, known as the Heartbeat Protection Act, in January to demand that the United States "prohibit abortion in cases where a fetal heartbeat is detectable." The remarkably limited nature of HR 490 has been criticized by observers as a blanket ban on virtually all abortions.
King's proposal, if it becomes law, would ban abortion procedures as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected and that can happen as early as six weeks. The six-week marker in the bill would hurt women, as many aren't even aware that they are pregnant at such an early point. In fact, there are multiple cases wherein a woman is entirely unaware that she is expecting.
"The six-week abortion ban bill is simply unconstitutional," Jayapal says. "It restricts the constitutionally protected right for women to make decisions about our own bodies, and similar state bills have already been struck down in the courts."
The bill heavily goes after physicians. It states there is no leniency or exception even if the pregnancy is a product of rape or incest. The only time the bill makes an exception is if a woman's life is in danger, though it makes clear that it is only when a "life is endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury." It makes clear that the bill does not make an exception for "psychological or emotional conditions."
If the bill becomes law, physicians who are convicted of violating its rules will be punished with imprisonment. According to the bill, a medical practitioner who performs an abortion on a fetus that has a "detectable heartbeat" could face five years behind bars.
Jayapal has long been a vocal critic of the bill. She cited a Pew Research Center study from January that estimated seven out of 10 Americans were opposed to overturning Roe v. Wade and also mentioned that states like North Dakota and Arkansas with similar bans on abortions were ultimately declared unconstitutional.
"There is no reason to believe that law would face a different fate in the Supreme Court," Jayapal told the subcommittee.
And during the hearing, Jayapal made sure everyone knew she was the only woman representing Americans in the hearing. She wrote on Twitter, "With HR 490, the GOP is trying to take our reproductive rights away. As the only woman lawmaker in the room, I'm saying #NoAbortionBan EVER."
Jayapal added that she believes the Republican men who were in the room with her debating women's freedom are hypocrites. She tells Bustle, "Republicans and their witnesses say they are on the side of life, yet they continuously cut CHIP and health care for single mothers, attack programs meant to improve the lives of women and children, and undermine access to critical contraception."