Legislation to codify national abortion protections fell to the Senate filibuster on Wednesday for the second time this year. It was a big, albeit expected blow to Democrats as they scramble to protect Roe v. Wade, which the Supreme Court is preparing to strike down this term.
Most Democrats, while frustrated, went along with the vote knowing it would fail but hoping it would give them a record to point to come midterms. The exercise seems routine at this point: Democrats bring bills to the table and despite a majority in both chambers, critical legislation ― like voting rights and the Women’s Health Protection Act ― dies by a Republican filibuster.
But reproductive health and justice organizations tell HuffPost enough is enough.
Forty of these groups are mobilizing to eliminate the filibuster ― an arcane political procedure that can delay or prevent a full floor vote on a piece of legislation. In a statement shared exclusively with HuffPost, Fix Our Senate, a coalition of justice organizations, connects the dots between structural democracy issues like the filibuster and how they systemically deny abortion and voting rights to the most marginalized communities across the country.
“Again and again, the rotten structures of our democracy deny our federal legislature the ability to enact the will of the people,” the statement says. “Anti-democratic and anti-abortion actors are reaping the success of their coordinated, well-funded, and dangerous GOP-led strategy to deny people … their right to vote and access abortion. These efforts are one in the same.”
Groups supporting the call to mobilize include NARAL Pro-Choice America, Women’s March, Whole Woman’s Health, We Testify, the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, Physicians for Reproductive Health, and a few dozen more.
“The same lawmakers stopping Black and brown people from voting are placing bans on our bodies,” Tammy Boyd, chief policy officer and counsel at Black Women’s Health Imperative, a signatory group, told HuffPost.
“We need to advocate for both democracy reform and abortion access — they’re inextricably linked issues which we saw yesterday when the Senate failed to pass legislation most Americans want.”
“Anti-democratic and anti-abortion actors are reaping the success of their coordinated, well-funded, and dangerous GOP-led strategy to deny people … their right to vote and access abortion. These efforts are one in the same.”
Some political groups point to the filibuster as a tool that has also helped pro-choice advocates in the past ― think Wendy Davis’ 13-hour filibuster against anti-abortion legislation in Texas in 2013. But reproductive justice organizations dispel that notion today: “We are under no illusion that clinging to the filibuster will protect us now,” the statement reads.
As they stand, U.S. institutions are not designed to represent the majority of Americans, said Renee Bracey Sherman, executive director and founder of We Testify, an abortion storytelling group.
“We voted to give Democrats the House, Senate and White House, and still, we can’t pass extremely popular pro-choice policies, because our democratic institutions are not designed to represent what the majority of our nation wants,” she said. “We need to abolish archaic and racist procedures to truly have a more just democracy, because without real change to our foundations, people who need abortions will always be at risk.”
The Women’s Health Protection Act, originally introduced in Congress in 2013, passed in the House last fall, but failed to pass in the Senate in March due to the filibuster. The legislation would create federal protections for providing and accessing abortion services, effectively codifying Roe by providing safeguards against state bans and medically unnecessary hurdles.
A Supreme Court draft decision leaked last week, revealing that the high court is expected to overturn Roe in just a few weeks when it rules in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which centers on a 15-week Mississippi abortion ban. The leaked draft sent shockwaves through the country ― with many Republicans claiming victory and Democrats and abortion advocates scrambling to find a last-minute stopgap.
Several members of Congress wrote to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday with a renewed sense of urgency to eliminate the filibuster ahead of the WHPA vote.
“This is not the first time many in Congress have called for the elimination of the filibuster, but each day that we allow this tool to remain in place, we see the catastrophic threat it presents to our constituents, our families, and our friends,” the letter reads. “Roe has been the law of the land for almost fifty years, and basic fairness and the stability of our law demand that it not be overturned.”
The letter was signed by 113 House members, including Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Pro-Choice Caucus Chairs Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), as well as the lead sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act, Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.).
“Women across this country are counting on Senate Democrats to do their jobs, fix the broken institution they serve, abolish the filibuster, and finally codify a woman’s right to choose into federal law,” Tamika Middleton, managing director of the Women’s March, told HuffPost via email. “We have said for years that the filibuster is a matter of life or death for so many in America ― and now, with the end of Roe and Casey in sight, it literally is. The time to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act is NOW. The time to abolish the filibuster is NOW. The time to fix our Senate ― well, that was yesterday, but NOW is better than never.”
Read the full Fix Our Senate statement here.