Protecting a Woman’s Right to Reproductive Choice

Until the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, abortions were illegal, but obtainable at high financial and personal costs, and often at great risk to a woman’s health. If a woman could afford an illegal abortion, it was generally unsafe and many abortions resulted in death or sterility. Before Roe, an estimated 100,000 illegal abortions were performed in California each year. Abortion was the single most common cause of maternal death in California prior to 1973. Today, women are entitled under the law to a safe abortion and they must comply with restrictions that have become part of some state laws since 1973.


On April 18, 2007, the Supreme Court ruled in Gonzales v. Carhart and Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood Federation of America that a federal ban on abortion, which outlaws certain second-trimester abortions, is Constitutional. For the first time since Roe v. Wade, the Court banned a specific procedure without an exception for the life or health of the mother, effectively overturning a key aspect of Roe without acknowledging it. The Court’s decision marked a drastic departure from precedent and substitutes the medical judgment of the Court, Congress and State Legislatures over that of obstetricians and gynecologists.

Rep. Eshoo has consistently supported a woman’s legal right to opt for, or against, an abortion. The decision is a difficult and private one, implicating issues of faith and conscience, and our Constitution recognizes this.

Rep. Eshoo also believes we have to do more to lower the number of abortions in our country. Key to this is reducing the number of unintended pregnancies. Rep. Eshoo has consistently supported legislation that enhances family planning programs, and to have medically accurate information included in any federally-funded abstinence-only education program. She has also supported reforming adoption and foster care policies to make these options real and practical alternatives to abortion.

The Right to Choose under Health Reform

In 1976, Congress passed what is known as the ‘Hyde Amendment’ which prohibits federal funds from being used for abortion except in cases of rape, incest or where the life of the woman is endangered. This is settled law and has been routinely applied to all appropriations bills for a quarter-century. The healthcare reform legislation signed into law by President Obama upholds this standard.

During debate on the House health care reform bill, Representative Bart Stupak offered an amendment that went far beyond the Hyde Amendment prohibition. It would have had the effect of banning abortion coverage from nearly every private health plan, despite the fact that most plans today do cover reproductive services as long as such a plan had any insured participants receiving any levels of federal assistance. Rep. Eshoo voted against including this amendment, and her statement from the Congressional Record on the Stupak Amendment is available here.

Rep. Eshoo voted to maintain the same prohibition that prevails under current law, and the reform law President Obama signed into law on March 21st, 2010 contains this language. To codify that principle further, the President has signed an Executive Order that reaffirms the longstanding restrictions on the use of public funds for abortion services. Rep. Eshoo agrees with the Catholic Health Association and NETWORK, which represent 59,000 Catholic Sisters in the United States. Their members endorsed the legislation because they believe the law will protect and promote the dignity of both the born and the unborn. As a devout Catholic, this endorsement was highly instructive to Rep. Eshoo.