RELEASE: Gottheimer Announces New Legislation to Protect Access to Mifepristone & Stop Far-Right Extremist War on Women’s Healthcare

Apr 09, 2024
Press

Above: Gottheimer at Planned Parenthood in Hackensack.

HACKENSACK, NJ — Today, Tuesday, April 9, 2024, at Hackensack Health Center’s Planned Parenthood, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer announced new legislation — the Protecting Personal, Private Medical Decisions Act — to protect doctor-prescribed access to Mifepristone, also known as the abortion pill. 

Video of the announcement can be found and downloaded here.

This new legislation comes after the Supreme Court heard arguments from far-right extremists to resurrect a “zombie law,” known as the Comstock Act, which dates back to 1873, to ban the pill. Additionally, just yesterday, President Trump shared in a video that he believes abortion should be decided by the states — essentially giving states like Florida a pass to fully ban abortion, even in heartbreaking cases where the life of the mother is at risk — or where the woman seeking the abortion is a survivor of rape or incest.

The Protecting Personal, Private Medical Decisions Act affirms the Department of Justice’s memo explaining that the Comstock Act does not prohibit the lawful mailing of abortion drugs like Mifepristone and condemns restrictions on reproductive healthcare.

Mifepristone is a safe and effective pill that has been available for more than two decades and is approved in more than 90 countries. This pill has been thoroughly studied by the FDA’s medical experts who have found that it is safe to be prescribed, including via telemedicine, and delivered to the patient via mail or pharmacy pickup.

“Far-right extremists have made it clear that they won’t stop until women lose their fundamental right to choose — Dobbs was just the beginning. It’s no surprise that anti-choice, anti-women groups are pushing for the resurrection of the Comstock Act at the Supreme Court. The public isn’t on their side, so they’re grasping at every possible legal straw in their war against choice. That’s why far-right extremists were less interested in debating the science and more focused on resurrecting a ‘zombie law,’ known as the Comstock Act, which dates back to 1873, to ban the pill,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer. “Let’s be clear: without access to safe and legal reproductive healthcare, women will die. I will always oppose any attempt by those sitting on the bench or sitting in Washington who want to roll back the clock on the right to choose and stand between a woman, her doctor, and her faith when making personal health care decisions.”

“I stand here today with Congressman Josh Gottheimer in support of his actions to push back against our government’s egregious efforts to quash women’s rights to make decisions about their own body. For the first time, the Supreme Court is being asked to overturn the FDA’s approval of a drug that has been safely used by more than 5.6 million people since its approval in the year 2000. There is so much noise out there in the media, you get numb to the government and the fringe legal establishment attacks on women’s rights. But we have to remain awake and incensed, and work with government officials like Josh Gottheimer to protect and restore our rights,” said Bergen County Commissioner Mary Amoroso.

“As a mom of young women of childbearing age, this is a scary time. We’re looking at maternal mortality rates that have increased 60% over the last two years. This is going in the wrong direction and tying doctors’ hands and making sure protocols don’t reflect best medical practices are not putting us in the right direction. As one who went to law school, I can tell you, that nothing equips me from that education to make a decision on what should happen to a women’s body, said Bergen County Commissioner Tracy Zur. “Congressman, I want to thank you, and I want to thank everyone at Planned Parenthood for doing the work that’s necessary to make sure we not only have our autonomy but that we have the right to our own healthcare.”

“As we speak, the Supreme Court is considering a case that will decide the future of access to mifepristone, a pill used in abortion care, even in states where abortion remains legal. And in a few weeks, the Supreme Court will hear another case that will determine whether patients have the right to emergency abortion care in states where abortion is banned. Anti-abortion lawmakers will try relentlessly to completely ban access to reproductive health and abortion, they are even hoping to enforce a law that has not been enforced in over a century, the Comstock Act,” said Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Kaitlyn Wotowicz. “Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey stands firmly against these draconian attacks on abortion access. Everyone should have the ability to make the decision that is best for their health and lives no matter where they live, their income, gender, race, or insurance. Amidst countless attacks on our right to access abortion, Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey is grateful to have advocates like Congressman Gottheimer championing abortion protections. Together, we will ensure that anti-abortion activists cannot continue to turn back the clock on reproductive freedom.”

Gottheimer was joined at Hackensack Health Center’s Planned Parenthood by Bergen County Commissioners Mary Amoroso and Tracy Zur and Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Kaitlyn Wotowicz.

Below: Gottheimer at Planned Parenthood in Hackensack.

Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

Good morning. I want to thank you for being here today to unite in support of a woman’s right to choose. 

I especially want to thank all of the advocates and healthcare professionals here at Planned Parenthood and beyond that have been on the front lines the Supreme Court issued the Dobbs decision overturning Roe versus Wade, ripping away personal and private protections for millions of people across America and putting their health and safety on the line. We are watching in real-time the widespread consequences of those who have declared a war on choice, a war on women’s healthcare, and a war on personal privacy.

Dobbs has unleashed a tidal wave of extremism across the United States at the expense of women’s health. Far-right extremists have made it clear that they won’t stop until women lose their fundamental right to choose on all fronts — Dobbs was just the beginning. That Court decision turned back the clock on progress and ripped away the rights of millions across the country to make personal and private medical decisions.

Nothing should get between a woman, her doctor, and her faith. Yet, last week, Florida’s ideological and activist Supreme Court ruled that a six-week abortion ban could come into effect as soon as May 1. At six weeks, many women don’t even know that they’re pregnant. Just yesterday, President Trump shared in a video that he believes abortion should be decided by the states – essentially giving states like Florida a pass to fully ban abortion, even in heartbreaking cases where the life of the mother is at risk. Or, where the woman seeking the abortion is a survivor of rape or incest. Even that position wasn’t strong enough for President Trump’s allies like Senator Lindsey Graham who demanded that Trump go even further with a national abortion ban.

This is the very definition of extremism. They will stop at nothing to block a woman’s reproductive freedom. Apparently, six-week abortion bans aren’t enough. 

Today, I’m announcing new legislative action – the Protecting Personal, Private Medical Decisions Act – to safeguard against ultra-right attacks on Mifepristone, also known as the abortion pill.

A grandmother today had more rights in 1973 than her daughter does today. The result has been devasting for women across our country — including for a ten-year-old girl from Ohio who was raped but couldn’t get an abortion in the state she lives.  

Fourteen states have full bans on abortion, not including states like Georgia, which has a ban at about six weeks of pregnancy before many women even know they are pregnant. And, nearly all of these bans are without exceptions for rape or incest.  

Since then, we’ve heard horror story after horror story of women and young girls being unable to access the health care they need. In August, we heard about a 13-year-old girl in Mississippi who was raped and had to carry her baby to term because the adults around her couldn’t navigate the state’s new abortion ban. Just this past December, in Texas, a woman whose fetus had a fatal diagnosis that put her health at risk was forced to leave the state to receive the medical care she needed. 

In Texas, a young woman almost died in January because she couldn’t find doctors to perform surgery following her ectopic pregnancy. She was told to simply “go home and wait.” Twenty-four hours later, when her fallopian tube had already begun to burst, she finally was admitted for surgery. She was likely just hours away from losing her life. These stories are just the tip of the iceberg. How many lives must be irreparably damaged or lost before we say enough?

In February, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos created by in vitro fertilization or IVF are children. This ruling laid the groundwork for other states to threaten access to IVF for families across our nation.

Now, far-right extremists have, once again, turned their attention toward Mifepristone. Last April, more than twenty years after mifepristone was approved by the FDA, a Texas District Court Judge decided that somehow, the approval process was inadequate. That decision threatened access to Mifepristone for millions of women – especially those in Red States, where the pill might be the only way to get an abortion. 

Now, the Supreme Court has heard arguments in the same case and will issue a ruling by the end of June. That verdict could determine abortion access for women across the country.

Experts agree: Mifepristone is safe and effective. More than ninety countries have approved it for use. Here in the United States, it’s been thoroughly studied by the FDA’s medical experts who have found that it’s safe to be prescribed, including via telemedicine, and delivered to the patient via mail or pharmacy pickup.

The District Court’s first ruling on Mifepristone last year in Texas was a complete affront to science. The decision ignored medical experts and invalidated an FDA approval that had been on the books for twenty years. It substituted the medical opinion of the judge over the expertise of doctors and scientists at the FDA. And two of the studies he relied on in the decision have since been retracted because of “a lack of scientific rigor.”

This drug, like all others that are approved by the FDA, went through a rigorous approval process. The decision to limit women’s access to Mifepristone is not supported by science. It’s driven by ideology. 

That’s why, at the Supreme Court, far-right extremists were less interested in debating the science and more focused on resurrecting a “zombie law,” known as the Comstock Act, which dates back to 1873, to ban the pill.

The Comstock Act is literally named for Anthony Comstock, a Civil War veteran and moral crusader. After the War, Comstock moved to New York, where he saw public ads for contraceptives for the first time. Comstock made it his mission to stop those ads from public view. He started an organization called the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice to coordinate police raids on people and places he viewed as lewd. 

He eventually took his efforts to the national level, lobbying Congress to pass a law that would empower the Post Office as the arbiter of morality.

As a result, in the late nineteenth century, Congress passed the Comstock Act, which allowed the U.S. Postal Service to search and seize so-called “obscene material” that was sent in the mail. Some extremists tried to use the Comstock Act to ban the mailing of love letters that hinted at physical relationships and anatomy textbooks – even though such materials are protected under the First Amendment. Now, modern day, ultra-right extremists are trying to use a provision of this same 1873 law to ban access to medical care for women. 

Before the Dobbs decision, the Comstock Act had been relegated to the dustbin of history. It hadn’t been enforced in decades, and so, according to legal norms, it had essentially become defunct. But, Dobbs brought the law back into public view. Anti-abortion groups dug into the annals of history to find support for their ridiculous claim that mailing Mifepristone to women across the country violates the Comstock Act.

It’s no surprise that anti-choice, anti-women groups are pushing for the resurrection of the Comstock Act at the Supreme Court. The public isn’t on their side, so they’re grasping at every possible legal straw in their war against choice. Don’t just take my word for it. Jonathan Mitchell, the former Texas Solicitor General who started filing lawsuits against abortion providers post-Dobbs, has said: “We don’t need a federal ban when we have Comstock.”

Let me be clear: there’s no reason that this zombie law from a century-and-a-half ago should be dictating women’s health care in 2024. 

The Department of Justice issued a binding memo explaining that sending abortion pills in the mail does not violate the Comstock Act, so long as the pills are being used lawfully.

The problem is that we’re dealing with people who will do anything to roll back women’s fundamental rights and who prioritize politics over science and even the rule of law. Ultra right-wing extremists have gloated that they’ll reverse the DOJ’s interpretation of Comstock if they get back to the White House in 2025.

Weaponizing the Comstock Act would put millions of women’s health at risk. More than half of abortions in this country are medication abortions, using pills like Mifepristone. And let’s be clear: without access to safe and legal reproductive healthcare, women will die.

That’s exactly why I’m here, taking a stand to protect access to Mifepristone.

Today, I’m announcing new legislation in Congress – the Protecting Personal, Private Medical Decisions Act — that makes it crystal clear that the Comstock Act must not – and cannot – be used to restrict a woman’s right to choose.

My bill does two things. First, it affirms the Department of Justice’s memo explaining that the Comstock Act does not prohibit the lawful mailing of abortion drugs like Mifepristone. Second, it strongly condemns restrictions on reproductive healthcare like abortion bans and bans on the shipment of abortion medication.

If President Trump really believes that abortion should be decided by the states, he and his backers should put their money where their mouth is and support my legislation. The Comstock Act could be used to restrict the abortion pill nationally and overrule states’ decision-making on abortion. Denouncing this zombie law is an important step to sending abortion policy back to the states.

Anti-abortion extremists aren’t going to stop their attacks on women’s health. And, I’m not going to stop defending reproductive healthcare.

On top of my legislation, I’m proudly leading the Freedom to Decide Act in Congress along with Congresswomen Jasmine Crockett of Texas and Angie Craig of Minnesota. The bill backs doctor-prescribed access to Mifepristone and supports telemedicine with doctors from across state lines, so doctors can prescribe the abortion pill, wherever women in need of health care live. 

Our legislation, which is supported by so many of our country’s leading women’s health groups, including Planned Parenthood and the National Women’s Law Center, makes it clear that this pill was approved by the FDA, that telehealth services for medication, including Mifepristone, are safe and dramatically improve accessibility for reproductive health care services, and that mailing medical abortion drugs is legal.

Finally, this legal war isn’t just about abortion. It’s a war on choice, women’s healthcare, and personal privacy. That’s why we’ve seen purportedly “pro-life” extremists in Alabama rule against IVF, a modern medical miracle that helps over 300,000 women each year achieve their dream of motherhood. 

That’s why I just introduced my “Securing Access to Fertility Everywhere Act,” or SAFE Act, which will protect a family’s access to IVF treatments and protect IVF providers. This new law will shield doctors, nurses, and hospitals prescribing IVF from liability and state wrongful death claims in using and transporting embryonic cells. 

Here in Jersey, we protect — and will continue to protect — a woman’s right to choose. I’m doing all I can to guarantee the same protections for women across America.

All Americans have a fundamental right to make personal, private healthcare decisions about their own bodies, lives, and futures. No one should get between a woman, her doctor, or her faith. I will always oppose any attempt by those sitting on the bench or sitting in Washington who want to roll back the clock on the right to choose and stand between a woman, her doctor, and her faith when making personal health care decisions.

This is just common sense, and what most Americans – eighty percent by some counts – know is right. We can’t allow extremism to win.

Once again, I want to thank everyone here for joining me today and for all the work you and your members do to stand up for women in Jersey. I’m very proud to stand with you in this fight for women’s health.

Thank you, and God bless our great country. 

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