Senate blocks bill to keep abortion legal nationwide ahead of Roe decision

WASHINGTON — The Senate failed to advance a Democratic-led bill Wednesday that would enshrine broad protections for legal abortion nationwide, a vote triggered by a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that indicates Roe v. Wade will likely be overturned.

The Women’s Health Protection Act, which has passed the House, won 49 votes, falling far short of the 60 senators needed to break a filibuster.

All 50 Republicans and Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., voted against proceeding to debate. The final vote was 49-51.

Moments before the vote, a group of House lawmakers appeared at the Senate side of the Capitol building and sang “my body, my decision!” as they walked along the halls outside the chamber.

Democratic leaders saw the vote as an opportunity to lay down a marker ahead of midterm elections in November as their party faces fierce headwinds, from President Joe Biden’s negative approval ratings to vote concerns about inflation. Strategists in the party hope to persuade the sizable majority of Americans who want to uphold Roe v. Wade to vote Democrat.

“Republicans in Congress — not one of whom voted for this bill — have chosen to stand in the way of Americans’ rights to make the most personal decisions about their own bodies, families and lives,” President Joe Biden said in a statement after the vote. “To protect the right to choose, voters need to elect more pro-choice senators this November, and return a pro-choice majority to the House. If they do, Congress can pass this bill in January, and put it on my desk, so I can sign it into law.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called it “one of the most consequential” votes the Senate has held in decades.

“For the first time in 50 years, a conservative majority, an extreme majority on the Supreme Court is on the brink of declaring that women do not have freedom over their own bodies, one of the longest steps back in the court’s entire history,” Schumer, DN.Y., said before the vote. “For MAGA Republicans, this has always been about making abortion illegal everywhere.”

Before the vote, Manchin said he would support a narrower bill to codify existing Supreme Court jurisprudence on abortion, but argued that the Democrats’ proposal goes too far.

“Make no mistake. It is not Roe v. Wade codification. It’s an expansion,” he said. “It expands abortion… We should not be dividing this country further than we’re already divided.”

Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, of Pennsylvania, who has held anti-abortion views for years, came out in favor of the bill Tuesday, saying the circumstances have changed.

Two Republicans—Sen. Susan Collins, of Maine, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska — say they support abortion rights and have proposed a narrower bill that includes carve-outs for religious or moral objections. They said the Democrats’ bill was too broad.

Ahead of the vote, Senate Democratic leaders circulated a letter from progressive and reproductive rights groups—including the Center for American Progress, NARAL and Planned Parenthood—arguing that the Collins-Murkowski bill is too narrow and “would not protect the right to abortion. “

While Democrats seek to paint Republicans and their chosen conservative judges as radical, the GOP has spent recent days arguing that Democrats are out of touch with most Americans, who say in surveys they favor some restrictions on legal abortion.

A Pew Research Center poll taken in March, before the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion, found that 61 percent of US adults say they want abortion to be legal; but just 19 percent say it should be legal in all cases, without exception.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the bill “extreme” and “radical.”

“Our Democrat colleagues want to vote for abortion on demand through all nine months, until the moment before the baby is born — a failed show vote that will only prove their own extremism,” he said in a floor speech Wednesday.

The leaked Supreme Court draft opinion may not be the final ruling and has no force of law until issued. But it has been widely expected that the court would overturn Roe v. Wade and the subsequent Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld a constitutional right to abortion.

As some Republicans weigh the pursuit of a nationwide abortion ban if they gain power, McConnell poured cold water on that prospect. Although he kept the door open to holding votes to curtail legal abortion, he promised to preserve the 60-vote threshold that applies to abortion bills if Republicans win control of the Senate.

“Historically, there have been abortion votes on the floor of the Senate. None of them have achieved 60 votes,” he told on Tuesday. “It’s safe to say there aren’t 60 votes there at the federal level.”

Kate Santaliz, Frank Thorp V and Julie Tsirkin contributed.

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