WASHINGTON — The Senate fell far short Wednesday in a rushed effort toward enshrining Roe v. Wade abortion access as federal law, blocked by a Republican filibuster in a blunt display of the nation’s partisan divide over the landmark court decision and the limits of legislative action.
This almost-party-line vote promises to be the beginning of many efforts by Congress to protect the court’s nearly 50-year-old ruling. It declares that there is a constitutional right for abortion services, but it faces serious danger of being overturned this year by the conservative Supreme Court.
President Joe Biden said that Republicans “have chosen to stand in the way of Americans’ rights to make the most personal decisions about their own bodies, families and lives.”
Biden encouraged voters to elect more pro-abortion rights lawmakers in November, and vowed to continue exploring other avenues to protect the Roe rights.
For now, his party’s slim majority proved unable to overcome the filibuster led by Republicans, who have been working for decades to install conservative Supreme Court justices and end Roe v. Wade. With 60 votes required to proceed, the vote was split 51-50.
Congress has been engaged in a long-running battle over abortion policy for many years. But the urgency of Wednesday’s vote on a House-approved bill was increased by the release of a Supreme Court draft opinion, which sought to reverse the Roe decision. This disclosure gave rise to a new sense that Congress is now facing a crisis over its position.
The outcome of the conservative-majority court’s actual ruling, expected this summer, is sure to reverberate around the country and on the campaign trail ahead of the fall midterm elections that will determine which party controls Congress.
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At the Capitol where Kamala Harris, Vice President of Kamala Harris Presided, security was tight. This has been reinforced at the Supreme Court as protestors turned out last week to demonstrate against the draft being leaked.
Numerous House Democratic lawmakers protested to the Senate. They were briefly observed from the visitors galleries.
Harris could provide the tiebreaking vote in the split Senate at 50-50, but this was irrelevant on Wednesday. Joe Manchin from West Virginia was a conservative Democrat who voted in support of the Republicans. Manchin said he believed that the current bill was too expansive and supported Roe v. Wade.
“The Senate is not where the majority of Americans are on this issue,” Harris said afterward.
The Democratic Senators made speeches over several days arguing that ending abortion access would be a great loss not just for women, but also for everyone planning their families’ futures.
Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) stated that while most American women know a world in which abortion is legal, they may face an uncertain future where their rights are less than those of their grandmothers or mothers.
“That means women will not have the same control over their lives and bodies as men do, and that’s wrong,” she said in the run-up to Wednesday’s vote.
While few Republican senators supported ending abortion access in the end, many of them embraced filibuster to prevent the bill’s advancement.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, an architect of the effort to install conservative justices on the Supreme Court — including three during the Trump era — has sought to downplay the outcome of any potential changes in federal abortion policy.
“This issue will be dealt with at the state level,” McConnell said.
Other Republicans, such as Sen. John Thune from South Dakota, claim that the House bill passed is extremer than Roe and will expand abortion access beyond the current law.
Half of the US states have already approved legislation that restricts or bans abortions. Some trigger laws would also be in place once the court makes its ruling.
According to polls, most Americans support abortion rights in the early stages of pregnancy. However, views on later-term abortions are nuanced.
According to the draft court ruling in a Mississippi case, it was clear that most conservative justices would like to see the federal abortion right ended and left up to the states.
This summer’s Supreme Court rulings will be almost certain to set off a new round of congressional political fights over the abortion policy and filibuster rules.
The recent political draw of abortion debates in Congress has been a result of the recent years. Bills would come up for votes — to expand or limit services — only to fail along party lines or be stripped out of broader legislative packages.
In the House, where Democrats have the majority, lawmakers approved the abortion-rights Women’s Health Protection Act last year on a largely party line vote after the Supreme Court first signaled it was considering the issue by allowing a Texas law’s ban to take effect.
But the bill has languished in the Senate, evenly split with bare Democratic control because of Harris’ ability to cast a tie-braking vote.
Wednesday’s failure renewed calls to change Senate rules to do away with the high-bar filibuster threshold, at least on this issue.
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The two Republican senators who support abortion access — Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who faces her own reelection in November, and Susan Collins of Maine — were also no votes, having proposed their own more tailored approach to counter the Supreme Court’s potential action.
Both of the Republican senators, who voted to confirm most of former President Donald Trump’s justices, are in talks over alternatives. But Democrats have largely panned the Collins-Murkowski effort as insufficient’
“I plan to continue working with my colleagues on legislation to maintain – not expand or restrict – the current legal framework for abortion rights in this country,” Collins said in a statement.
The pressure is mounting on the two senators to support most Democrats and change filibuster rules. However, it appears unlikely.
Five years ago, it was McConnell who changed Senate rules to selectively do away with the filibuster to confirm Trump’s justices after blocking Barack Obama’s choice of Merrick Garland to fill a Supreme Court vacancy at the start of the 2016 presidential campaign, leaving the seat open for Trump to fill after he won the White House.
Both parties face enormous pressure to convince voters they are doing all they can — the Democrats working to preserve abortion access, the Republicans to limit or end it — with the fall elections coming up.
The congressional campaign committees have been busy fundraising to raise money for the issue and urging voters to get involved.
This report was contributed by Farnoush Amiri of the Associated Press, Alan Fram and Mary Clare Jalonick. Darlene Superville and Kevin Freking in Washington, and David Sharp in Maine.
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