Senate Democrats failed Monday to clear a procedural vote in the Senate on a bill that would prohibit some state-level abortion restrictions, putting vulnerable members on the record for the controversial measure before November’s elections.
The motion to proceed did not meet the requisite 60-vote threshold to begin debate on the bill, blocking a final vote on the legislation. The vote failed 46-48.
The Women’s Health Protection Act would make it a right for a woman to undergo an abortion procedure, and it would override certain state laws restricting abortion, including mandatory ultrasounds or waiting periods, bans on abortions via telemedicine, or requiring providers to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
Both sides characterized the other party’s position as extreme: Republicans hit the federal effort to void state laws, while Democrats argued that the bill was a response to growing numbers of state-level abortion restrictions. Two Republicans who support legal abortion, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, said they would not support the bill, characterizing it as an overreach. But on Monday, the two Republicans introduced the Reproductive Choice Act as an alternative to the bill, which they said would simply codify the Supreme Court's precedent in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia was the only Democrat to oppose the motion. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, who has a mixed record on the issue of abortion, voted to proceed with debate on the bill, adding in a statement that he hoped the chamber would also consider ways to increase funding for mothers and infants.
VERMONT SENATE CANDIDATE CHRISTINA NOLAN WANTS TO MAKE HISTORY MULTIPLE TIMES OVER
Sen. Steve Daines said at a press conference that "on an evening when the world is focused on the war that's going on in Ukraine and Vladimir Putin is overtaking the country of Ukraine, the United States Senate will be voting on the most extreme legislation on abortion ever considered in the history of this body."
"It's no wonder you're seeing the Democrats polling data falling through the floor," the Montana senator and the founder of the Senate Pro-Life Caucus said. "They are so out of touch with where the American people are, and tonight is an example.”
But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer appeared to embrace putting senators on the record with regard to the issue, telling reporters at a press conference that he brought the "long overdue" bill up for a vote because "every American deserves to know where their senator stands on an issue as important as the right to choose."
"Many senators don't want to say how they vote when they're on the wrong side of this issue," the New York Democrat said.
Sen. Todd Young told the Washington Examiner that there is "a political dimension" to Democrats bringing up the bill for a vote.
"Democrat colleagues I speak to are struggling to find ways to keep their base of supporters energized," the Indiana Republican said. "Their households are concerned about price inflation. They're concerned about open borders. They're concerned about empty shelves, and they're exasperated that national Democrats have spent the past year or so focusing on on other things. They don't anticipate winning those arguments. So this is a distraction."
The bill was passed by the House in September, and it is backed by the Biden administration. Congressional Democrats and the White House have argued that the bill is necessary to counteract controversial restrictions such as a Texas law prohibiting abortion after six weeks or potential changes to Roe, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
The Supreme Court last year heard oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, a case concerning a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks. Some analysts argue Dobbs prompt the court to revise or reconsider Roe. The court’s decision is expected in June.
Abortion rights activists characterized the bill as a safeguard against changes to Roe.
The Planned Parenthood Action Fund urged supporters on its website to contact their senators and tell them to support the “critical legislation,” which it said would “protect the right to abortion throughout the United States and guard against the dangerous abortion bans and medically unnecessary abortion restrictions being pushed forward by state politicians.”
Abortion is health care.— Planned Parenthood Action (@PPact) February 28, 2022
Today's Senate vote on the Women's Health Protection Act (WHPA) is a chance to #ActForAbortionAccess w/historic protections FOR our abortion rights & AGAINST unnecessary restrictions. Tell your Senator to vote yes on WHPA: https://t.co/cIlzRfFvyC pic.twitter.com/wrXaIF8Rlm
The Women’s March argued that the Senate should end the filibuster over failure to pass the bill.
If Republicans try to block the Women's Health Protection Act today, then the Senate has to act immediately.— Women's March (@womensmarch) February 28, 2022
End the filibuster. Reproductive rights are on the line.
Anti-abortion activists argued that the bill goes beyond codifying Roe by undoing existing state laws.
Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, said the organization “condemns this bill in the strongest possible terms.”
“The misnamed Women’s Health Protection Act is the most radical abortion bill in United States history,” Mancini said in a statement. “It would enshrine into federal law abortion on demand until the moment of birth, and it would nullify state laws — new and existing — that protect unborn children and their mothers. In doing so, the Act would rob the American people of their voice on this issue, even though an overwhelming majority (71%) including 49% of Democrats want to see abortion limited to — at most — the first three months of pregnancy. This bill is obviously designed by pro-abortion politicians to appease the abortion lobby. Lawmakers, regardless of party affiliation, must reject it.”
Putting Democrats on the record with regard to the legislation, anti-abortion activists argued, would ultimately help them elect abortion opponents in November.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said in a statement that “Pro-abortion Democrats in Washington will stop at nothing to impose their radical, unpopular agenda nationwide.”
“Biden, Pelosi, and Schumer’s ‘Abortion on Demand Until Birth Act’ would enshrine an unlimited abortion ‘right’ in federal law and block common ground pro-life laws around the country, including limits on late-term abortions when unborn babies feel pain, bans on lethal discrimination abortions, and many more,” Dannenfelser said. “At a time of growing pro-life momentum in state legislatures, national Democratic leaders’ support for abortion on demand without limits, at taxpayer expense, is grossly out of step with the will of the American people. We urge every one of our Senate allies to stand firm against this assault on innocent life and on democracy, and we will work tirelessly to hold members of Congress accountable for their votes.”
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Some Republican campaigns appeared to agree. In Florida, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s campaign hit Democratic challenger Rep. Val Demings over her support for the bill in the House.
“No legislation is ever too liberal for Val Demings — even when it comes to protecting the unborn against third trimester abortions. Thankfully, pro-life Republicans like Marco Rubio stand in the breach against radical efforts to end babies' lives before they are even born,” Elizabeth Gregory, communications director for Marco Rubio for Senate, said in a statement.