Republicans Block Bill To Protect Abortion Rights After Tarring It As Radical

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 11: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)(Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Republicans blocked a bill to codify and expand abortion rights Wednesday, leaving Democrats well short of the 60 votes needed to circumvent the filibuster. 

Even without the Senate rule, though, Democrats lacked the votes to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act on a simple majority: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) came out against it earlier Wednesday afternoon.

Every Democrat besides Manchin, including Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) with his historically anti-abortion leanings, voted to advance the legislation.

Republicans spent their floor speeches before the vote largely coalesced behind the same talking points: that the “radical” bill would allow for late-term abortions, as well as “abortions on demand.” 

The bill would allow for late-term abortions, but only in critical situations. 

“Governments may not prohibit abortion services before fetal viability or after fetal viability when a provider determines the pregnancy risks the patient’s life or health,” the text reads. 

The Republican senators also sought to obfuscate the real reasons why women get late-term abortions, some of which they and their state-level counterparts are culpable for. 

Late-term abortions are incredibly rare; the vast majority of abortions happen in the first trimester. When they do happen late, it’s often due to health problems with the woman or fetus. 

Delays in care can also force women to get later abortions. That’s a direct ramification of state-level Republicans passing restrictions to shutter clinics — forcing delays in appointments, long travel times and overcrowding of the limited clinics available — and complicating insurance coverage, leaving women scrambling to pull the money together for the procedure. 

The bill would also limit red states’ ability to layer abortions with unnecessary obstacles, like prolonged waiting periods — perhaps the data point beneath the “abortion on demand” critique. 

While Republicans railed against the supposed extremity of the bill, Democrats mostly reiterated that the women, and not politicians, should be the ones making the decisions. 

Some also warned of the next frontier for anti-abortion activists in a post-Roe world.

“They’re coming after your birth control,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). 

“Today it will be Roe,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said just before the vote. “Tomorrow, it will be a national ban on abortion.” 

Schumer had scheduled the vote after the draft Supreme Court opinion leaked, showing that a majority of justices has voted to overturn abortion rights. The Democratic-majority House passed the WHPA last year, but then, too, it crashed up against a Republican filibuster in the Senate. 

There has been a parallel legislative effort in the Senate to Wednesday’s blocked bill.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has been working with Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) on a more limited version of an abortion-rights bill, but it would run into the same Senate obstacles. 

Unless the two Republicans joined with the Democrats — minus Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) — to create a carveout in or kill the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold, the legislation would fall well short of passage. Kaine told reporters Wednesday that filibuster reform was not part of the negotiations, all but dooming the bill. 

Democratic leadership was fairly candid about Wednesday’s vote being more for show than because it had any chance of passing. 

“The American people will see where every single U.S. Senator stands,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) tweeted Wednesday morning. 

House Democratic women marched to the Senate before the vote, many linking arms and chanting: “my body, my choice.” 

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