GOP Filibusters Bill That Would Protect Abortion Rights If Roe v. Wade Falls

The Women’s Health Protection Act would have outlawed hundreds of state-level anti-abortion laws.

The Women’s Health Protection Act ― critical legislation that would safeguard abortion rights across the country ― failed to advance in the Senate on Monday.

Every Republican and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) voted against proceeding to the bill.

The WHPA would protect the right to access abortion across the U.S., even if Roe v. Wade is overturned in a landmark Supreme Court case that’s expected to be decided this summer. Specifically, the bill aimed to outlaw all abortion restrictions that “are more burdensome than those restrictions imposed on medically comparable procedures ... do not significantly advance women’s health or the safety of abortion services, and … make abortion services more difficult to access.”

“From the moment that Roe was decided in 1973, the most extreme elements of the Republican Party have plotted its demise,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. “Sadly, it seems like the Supreme Court is posed to severely limit abortion rights in the coming months. That’s why this bill is essential. Congress must codify into law what most Americans have long believed — that abortion is a fundamental right and that women’s decisions over women’s health care belong to women not to extremist right-wing legislatures.”

Some Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), criticized Democrats for scheduling the vote on Monday, arguing that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should take precedence. Democrats set up the vote a week prior to the invasion.

“With a cascade of major crises testing our country, Senate Democrats are prioritizing a showboat on mandating nine months of abortion on demand across America,” McConnell said. “Senate Democrats want to go on record supporting the radical and massively unpopular proposition that we should have functionally no restrictions on abortion whatsoever.”

Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood, said the vote was “historic” despite its failure in the Senate.

“This fight continues — in Congress and in the states. People deserve access to abortion no matter their zip code or income,” McGill Johnson said in a statement. “It’s unconscionable that so many U.S. Senators voted against their own constituents’ health and rights. As state legislative chambers escalate their aggressive assaults on reproductive freedoms, we need lawmakers at all levels of government to step up in this moment of crisis. Planned Parenthood Action Fund will never stop fighting for access to safe, legal abortion — no matter what. The work continues.”

WHPA was originally introduced in Congress in 2013, but was reintroduced in June after gaining traction in the wake of a slew of anti-abortion measures at the state level. WHPA passed the House with historic support in September, just weeks after Texas implemented a draconian measure banning abortion at six weeks and deputizing private citizens to enforce the law. Energy to set a vote in the Senate briefly languished as the Build Back Better bill worked its way through Congress.

“At a time when women’s access to reproductive health care is under increased assault in states across the country, it is extremely disappointing that Senate Republicans blocked passage of the Women’s Health Protection Act,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Tuesday morning.

“As dangerous new laws proliferate in states across the country, the Biden-Harris Administration will continue to explore the measures and tools at our disposal to stand up for women’s equality,” the statement continued. “This is a moment for us to recommit to strengthening access to women’s health care, defend the constitutional right affirmed by Roe, and protect the freedom of all people to build their own future.”

“Congress must codify into law what most Americans have long believed — that abortion is a fundamental right and that women’s decisions over women’s health care belong to women not to extremist right-wing legislatures.”

- Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)

The Senate vote on WHPA came at a critical time: Roe could be overturned or gutted by June. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case that focuses on a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi, in December. The Mississippi law is a direct contradiction to Roe, which made it a constitutional right to access abortion until a fetus becomes viable at around 24 weeks.

The Supreme Court could strike down the Mississippi law, which would mean Roe would remain intact. But advocates and experts agree that the court’s conservative majority signaled during oral arguments that it would likely uphold the law by either banning abortion outright or tinkering with the viability line. Either of those options would effectively overturn Roe — setting off a nationwide battle where some states outlaw abortion and others go to great lengths to protect it.

The law likely would have faced serious challenges in court — including ending up in front of the Supreme Court and its conservative majority — but that’s a fight many Democrats and abortion advocates were hoping to have.

“The Women’s Health Protection Act would make the provisions of Roe v. Wade the law of the land regardless of what zip code you are in,” Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), the lead sponsor of the bill, told HuffPost in December. “There would be challenges, of course, but yes, it would be indeed the law of the land.”

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