Assistant House Speaker Katherine Clark (D-MA), a member of Congress since 2013, has built a career on centering families and caregivers and working to protect and expand reproductive health care, both in the United States and across the globe.
Late last spring, I had the privilege of talking to her about the ambitious policy agenda for reproductive health, rights, and justice that Democratic lawmakers were pulling together in Congress. But just before we were set to publish that conversation, the Supreme Court announced it was taking up Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization—the first direct challenge to Roe v. Wade in nearly 50 years—and, well, the landscape changed immediately.
And then the landscape changed yet again.
Just a few months later, the Supreme Court allowed Texas’ near-total abortion ban to take effect. Texas SB 8 bans abortion as soon as a so-called fetal heartbeat is detected—which can be as early as six weeks’ gestation—and relies on citizen militias for enforcement. SB 8 is blatantly unconstitutional, and yet the Supreme Court has let it stay in effect for more than four months now.
It’s safe to say a post-Roe America is already here.
With this new landscape taking shape before us, I checked back in with Clark. The following excerpts of our two conversations have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Rewire News Group: Just after our first conversation, the Supreme Court announced it was taking up Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. And then Texas and SB 8 happened. Are there ways, besides passage of the Women’s Health Protection Act, that Congress can help secure abortion access for patients across the country?
Rep. Katherine Clark: For almost 50 years, the right to abortion has been protected by the Constitution. Yet in the last decade, state lawmakers have pushed through nearly 500 restrictive laws that make abortion difficult and sometimes impossible to access. This fight has reached a breaking point. Anti-abortion policies are about power and control over our bodies and control over our choices.
Getting an abortion takes more than just a doctor. It requires the money to pay for the procedure, the ability to take off work, and access to transportation. And for the 6 in 10 women seeking abortion who already mothers, it requires child care.
Health care, paid family leave, economic stability, accessible child care—these are all basic human dignities that are out of reach for too many. Facing these challenges during a pandemic has pushed a historic 2 million women out of the workforce and furthered the economic divide between the wealthy and working families.
If we want reproductive justice, we need to enact the Build Back Better agenda. Congress must also follow through on President Biden’s pledge and finally repeal the Hyde Amendment, which prevents low-income people from accessing the full range of reproductive health care options. And we also have to turn our attention to state legislatures and ensure that at every level of government, we are electing leaders who understand and advocate for the legal right to abortion.
Let’s talk about the Childcare Is Infrastructure Act. One of the things Rewire News Group sees (and tries to report out in various capacities) is the fact that child care is infrastructure, and that without the ability to support working parents, so much of our other systems start to fall apart. And so I’m wondering if you can speak to that bill a little bit, just in terms of its purpose and scope.
KC: For too long, we have failed to recognize child care for what it is: a central piece of our economic infrastructure. Just like core infrastructure such as roads and bridges, child care fuels our economy and allows parents, businesses, and kids to thrive. I am optimistic that we are seeing a paradigm shift from looking at child care as a private decision between a parent and a child care provider to viewing it as the public good that it is. The pandemic completely upturned the child care system, which already operated on the slimmest of margins in good times. Child care went into the pandemic fragile, but like so many other areas of inequities that existed before, the pandemic brought it into starker view.
What we have been able to do is stabilize child care providers [with] the American Rescue Plan. And [the Childcare Is Infrastructure Act] builds on that. Let’s improve the safety of our child care facilities and help providers do that without passing those costs on to parents. Let’s support the financial well-being of [future] educators by making sure they can access higher education and have a student loan repayment program. Let’s make sure we are meeting the needs of our student parents so they can continue to access higher education, but also have a place for their children to receive care safely while they’re doing that.
I am so proud that provisions of this bill have been included in the Build Back Better agenda.
These legislative movements are so important, particularly now that the Supreme Court has taken up the Dobbs case. Abortion rights are not just very squarely in the political conversation again, but also really under attack in ways we probably have not seen since Roe and Casey. A lot of folks are starting to look to Congress to see if something can be done there to shore up abortion rights. What do you have to say to them?
KC: Yeah, we are at a moment of grave danger. Again, coming out of a pandemic where the economic fallout has hit women so hard and disproportionately, I think back on December’s job report, when every single job loss belonged to a woman. And we are seeing that all of these pieces fit together, that reproductive justice is really the intersectional lens through which to view it. There are real economic costs besides the cost in women’s personal lives, and we have to keep that in mind.
And that is why, as we are facing uncertainty and looking at a Supreme Court that has been chosen to be anti-abortion in the most recent justices who have joined, we have legislation in Congress that will enshrine reproductive rights law into law and make sure that abortion is a right. And I am so heartened that President Biden has recognized the inequities and oppression that stems from the Hyde Amendment and is working to help us overturn that. But we have other bills that will make sure that whatever the ideological makeup of the Supreme Court, women will be able to access fully reproductive health care in this country.
Recently, mainstream abortion rights groups have publicly come forward to talk about the ways in which the fight to secure voting rights has to be part of the fight to secure abortion rights and access. What are your thoughts on this?
KC: Sixty percent of voters support Roe v. Wade. That’s an overwhelming majority. Without a fair vote, our laws can’t reflect that reality. If gerrymandering, dark money, and voting restrictions continue, the voice of the people will be overcome by the will of the powerful. That is not democracy.
What would you say to folks who ask how to best get involved in the fight to protect reproductive health care in their own states?
KC: The campaign against abortion access in Washington is led by the same politicians who are voting down policies that combat racial, economic, and gender injustice. Why else would politicians who preach “family values” vote against supporting child care that allows parents to get to work? Why else would they vote against paid family leave, inhibiting families from caring for their loved ones while also enabling them to keep a roof over their heads? Why would Republicans refuse to come to terms with our gross history of forced sterilizations and its recent usage by the previous administration? Or the largest tax cut for families in our history, which has dramatically reduced child poverty and hunger?
Protecting the right to abortion and the ability to access care will take all of us acknowledging this coordinated campaign to hold on to a hierarchy. Untangling this wicked web of systemic racism and misogyny requires us all to recognize that the fight for reproductive freedom is the same fight to bring to life the values of equality and justice set forth in our Constitution.