WASHINGTON — Legislation aimed at safeguarding abortion rights across the country failed in the Senate for the second time this year as a conservative majority on the Supreme Court prepares to strike down its landmark 1973 ruling Roe v. Wade.
The Women’s Health Protection Act would create federal protections for providing and accessing abortion services. The House already passed the bill, but Senate Republicans blocked it from advancing earlier this year.
Faced with few legislative options in the narrowly divided Senate, Democrats are hoping their renewed effort to codify abortion rights will help galvanize voters ahead of the November midterm elections and make clear which party is standing in the way of protecting a woman’s right to choose.
“Tens of millions of women are watching what will happen to the rights they’ve relied on for decades, and all of us will have to answer for this vote for the rest of our time in public office,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday ahead of the vote.
“Before the day is over, every member of this body will make a choice: stand with women to protect their freedoms, or stand with MAGA Republicans and take our country into a dark and repressive future,” he added.
Neither Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) or Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), two pro-choice Republicans, supported the bill despite efforts by Democrats to make it less divisive. The senators argued it does not provide sufficient protections for anti-abortion health providers, a charge Democrats contest as unwarranted.
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin was the lone Democratic vote against advancing the bill. He, too, claimed the legislation went too far.
A leaked draft opinion showing that a majority of Supreme Court justices voted to overturn Roe in February has created a firestorm in Washington, leading to protests in front of the homes of several justices. The draft isn’t final; an official decision is expected this summer. But according to several news outlets, the majority holding in the draft opinion hasn’t changed.
Polling has long suggested that most voters don’t favor overturning Roe. Sixty-one percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 37% believe it should be illegal in all or most cases, according to a Pew Research poll conducted in March.
But Republicans who supported all three of the most recent GOP-appointed Supreme Court justices and who believe that Roe was wrongly decided are betting that other issues, such as the economy, will resonate more with voters in November.
“I don’t see [overturning Roe] as being a decision point for Iowa voters,” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said on conservative Hugh Hewitt’s radio show last week. “They are concerned about 40-year high inflation, prices at the pump, a bad economy. That’s what they’re worried about, so I think it might have a little blip here, but not overall.”
More than half of the U.S. is poised to outlaw or severely limit abortion access if the Supreme Court follows through on its draft opinion. Moreover, many of the laws already passed in GOP-controlled states have no exceptions for rape or incest.
Republican legislatures aren’t stopping there, either. Some state lawmakers are pushing forward with even more draconian measures, such as efforts to “criminalize contraceptive care, in vitro fertilization and post-miscarriage care, dragging our nation back to a dark time decades into the past,” as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) warned in a letter to her colleagues this week.
Some Republicans in the Senate are even dreaming about the prospect of a national ban on abortion — undercutting rhetoric from many in their party about simply wanting to leave the issue up to each individual state.
Over the weekend, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) suggested in an interview with USA Today that a nationwide ban on abortion is “possible” if his party retakes control of the Senate, though he added he wasn’t willing to eliminate the filibuster to do so. He later told reporters there isn’t a “widespread sentiment” in his caucus that it’s necessary to push for such a measure.
“There’s not the votes for a federal abortion ban at this point, but I think every child is valuable and I think we will get there eventually,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), a proponent of a national ban, told HuffPost last week.
Democrats immediately went on offense by seeking to tie McConnell’s comments to GOP candidates across the country. Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats up for reelection this year, released a digital ad linking her opponents to what the narrator calls “McConnell’s decade-long crusade to criminalize abortion.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), meanwhile, argued that maintaining Democratic control of the Senate would be critical in a post-Roe world.
“We need to make sure that every single voter understands that the Republican Party and Mitch McConnell does not believe that their daughters, that their mothers, that their sisters have rights to make fundamental life and death decisions,” Gillibrand said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“We are half-citizens under this ruling. And if this is put into law, it changes the foundation of America.”