WASHINGTON ― As the Senate voted on safeguarding abortion rights Wednesday, a group of House Democrats were there urging their colleagues to vote yes.
The Women’s Health Protection Act, which would have created federal protections for providing and accessing abortion services, failed along party lines ― with the exception of West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, the only Democrat who voted against it.
The legislation, which has already passed the House, was widely expected to fail in the Senate. Democrats had tried to advance it in February and also hit a GOP roadblock then. But a number of House Democrats still wanted to be there, marching from their side of the Hill over to the Senate.
Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) was be one of those members. For Bush, this fight is personal.
“I am furious,” she told a small group of reporters in her office Wednesday morning.
In 1994, Bush was raped on a church trip at the age of 17. She then became pregnant and sought out a clinic for options on what to do.
Bush first publicly told this story ― about the pressure she felt, the options she had and the effect of anti-abortion protesters ― last year at a congressional hearing on reproductive rights. She spoke about it again Tuesday, calling on the Senate to take action.
Bush acknowledged the reality that the WHPA isn’t going to become law just yet. But she said it’s still important for the Senate to hold the vote in light of all that’s changed.
What’s changed since February is that last week, Politico published a leaked draft of an opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito showing that a majority of the court is ready to strike down Roe v. Wade.
“Just because you serve in Congress does not mean that you are up and full of information on every subject,” Bush said. “And so now that people have more information [about what the court will do], put them back on record.”
Bush said she’d like to see President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) pushing harder to change the filibuster for abortion-related legislation. That would allow the Senate to pass legislation with just a majority, rather than 60 votes. The issue, however, is that Democrats don’t have their entire caucus on board to change those rules.
But she’d also like to hear Biden use the word “abortion” more. Last week was the first time in his presidency that Biden publicly said the word “abortion.” Up until then, he had used it only three times ― but all in written remarks.
“I do think that he should say it more,” Bush said.
“People are looking to what the president does. A lot of times that holds more weight than what people are hearing come out of Congress. Because folks may not always know their Congress member’s name. ... But everybody knows who their president is,” she added, recounting her recent visit with a group of preschool kids who all could identify Biden as the president.
House Democratic leaders have also been taking heat from some in the party for backing the reelection of Henry Cuellar in Texas, the only Democrat in the House who opposes abortion rights. He’s running against progressive Jessica Cisneros in the May 24 runoff.
Bush declined to condemn either the leadership or Cuellar himself, but she said she would prefer for the caucus to stay neutral in a situation like that rather than to actively back an anti-abortion member.
“It’s one thing to have a big tent where you have everybody doing their thing, but then it’s another thing in how we show up and support. ... I’m thinking about my district, thinking about the people who are going to be most affected by overturning Roe. ... That’s just something I would not push,” Bush said. “Because for me, still, at the end of the day, if you don’t like abortion, then just don’t get one and don’t promote it. You don’t like Burger King, don’t go to Burger King.”