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Democratic women in US Senate target Project 2025 on reproductive rights

Lia Chien, Ohio Capital Journal,

WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats held a press conference Tuesday to stand up for reproductive rights and freedoms, criticizing a plan by a conservative think tank that if adopted would hinder abortion and contraception access in a Trump administration.

The lawmakers called attention to the potential restrictions former President Donald Trump could employ to reproductive health care if elected in November outlined in Project 2025, an almost 1,000-page conservative policy proposal.

The plan would restructure the federal government to be in line with Trump’s political beliefs. The Trump campaign has said other groups do not speak for it, but the project is led by former staffers, including the chief of staff at the Office of Personnel Management in the Trump administration.

Democratic Sen. Patty Murray from Washington state, who is  the former chair of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, led the press event. She was joined by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Jacky Rosen of Nevada.

Murray said Project 2025, drafted by the conservative Heritage Foundation, would pose a threat to access to reproductive care nationwide.

“Donald Trump and his allies are planning a detailed road map, they’ve given it out, to rip away a woman’s right to choose in every single state in America,” she said.

Comstock Act

Murray addressed concerns about the Comstock Act, a key element of Republicans’ legal argument in restricting access to abortion in the United States.

In 1873, Congress passed the act to ban mailing of obscene matter, which includes abortion materials. In some interpretations of the law, the act could be used to prohibit mailing chemical abortion pills, like mifepristone. The Supreme Court last week unanimously rejected an effort to reduce access to mifepristone by anti-abortion groups.

Abortion pills accounted for 63 percent of abortions in the U.S. in 2023, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights nonprofit.

In line with the Roe v. Wade ruling that upheld abortion rights, chemical abortion pills were protected and it was legal to mail them. In December 2022 after the Supreme Court overturned Roe, the Department of Justice determined it is still legal to mail drugs like mifepristone despite the Comstock Act.

Still, Republicans potentially could use the Comstock Act to reduce abortion access under a second Trump presidency, the Project 2025 document indicates. Schumer highlighted a quote at Tuesday’s press conference from Jonathan F. Mitchell, an architect of Project 2025 and lifelong anti-abortion advocate.

“We don’t need a federal ban when we have Comstock on the books,” Mitchell said, quoted in the New York Times.

In May, Sen. Tina Smith from Minnesota announced she planned to introduce legislation to repeal the Comstock Act altogether.

Murray told reporters at Tuesday’s event the DOJ has said Republicans could not use the Comstock Act to restrict abortion access.

“Just let me make it very clear,” said Murray. “Our Department of Justice has made it very clear that Comstock does not apply.”

IVF legislation

Schumer slammed Republicans for blocking Duckworth’s IVF access legislation last week. The bill needed 60 votes to advance but only received 48. Only two Republican senators voted to advance it: Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

“In the last two weeks, Senate Republicans have shown that for all their attempts to sound moderate on reproductive care, when it comes time to vote, they choose MAGA extremism,” said Schumer.

Schumer announced that he has begun the process of putting a new bill, the Reproductive Freedom for Women Act, on the legislative calendar. The proposed legislation co-sponsored by Murray and every Democratic woman in the Senate would express the sense of Congress that lawmakers should “enshrin(e) the protections of Roe into law,” Schumer said.

Trump appointments

The power of the courts was also a prime focus of lawmakers at the press conference.

Klobuchar, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, noted how Trump’s appointments to federal courts had a major impact on not only the overturning of Roe, but in restricting reproductive care across the country, including abortion.

She highlighted that judges will be critical in protecting rights to legal standing in bringing cases and prohibiting extreme actions by a possible Trump administration. Senate Democrats are battling to keep control of the chamber in November’s elections.

“Every judge we confirm makes a difference,” she said. “We know the American people are with us. They are with us on having judges in place that actually respect the law.”

During Trump’s first term, he appointed three justices to the Supreme Court: Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett. All three were confirmed to the court by the Senate and will remain significant in writing opinions far beyond Trump’s time in office.

Planned Parenthood

Senators at Tuesday’s event called out a number of plans in Project 2025 that Democrats oppose. For example, the plan says the Department of Health and Human Services should make it clear states can defund Planned Parenthood in their Medicaid plans and should propose rules to disqualify Planned Parenthood from Medicaid.

“Planned Parenthood is often the only option for women with low incomes seeking contraception,” Hirono said.

Hirono also noted that Project 2025 proposed changing the name of the Department of Health and Human Services to the Department of Life.

“This isn’t about protecting life,” said Hirono. “This is about power and control and the Republicans’ obsession with controlling women’s bodies.”

Duckworth expressed frustration with Republicans who tell American voters that they care about women’s rights but don’t vote to protect them.

“When the rubber meets the road and we ask not just for empty words on Twitter before their vote, they won’t lift a finger to protect women in this country,” she said.

Murray vowed to protect women’s rights no matter the outcome of November’s election.

“We are fighting back,” said Murray. “We’re doing everything we can to protect women’s rights and we will be here to block anything that the Trump administration tries to do.”

Lia Chien is a Capitol Reporting Fellow based in the States Newsroom Washington, D.C Bureau. She is passionate about covering agriculture, climate, and education policy areas.

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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