The Senate Democrats’ Attempt to Extend Abortion Protection Roe v. Wade in federal law failed miserably on Wednesday, with one of the Democrats’ own members, Sen. Joe Manchin, join all Republicans to fuel the legislation. The Women’s Health Protection Act was shot 51-49 in a largely symbolic vote that the Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer nonetheless described as “one of the most sweeping we’ve taken in decades.” But perhaps even more telling was the demonstration of how far Congress is from enshrining women’s reproductive rights into law.
“The American people are watching; the public will not forget which side of the vote senators fall on today,” Schumer said on the Senate floor, addressing the body before the vote. Schumer warned of “open season” on Americans’ “God-given freedoms” should Supreme Court fall roe without any action from Congress. “Today it’s Roe, tomorrow it’s a national abortion ban.”
Democrats took the bill to the floor for just over a week after a draft opinion from the Supreme Court judge Samuel Alito knock down roe leaked to Politics, which reported that the court’s conservatives had provisionally voted to overturn the landmark 1973 ruling in a preliminary vote. The expected ruling, which breaks 50 years of precedent, would dramatically roll back America’s reproductive rights and call into question the safety of other established laws, including marriage equality. Democrats have joined reproductive rights advocates in decrying the expected decision, but have struggled to do anything about it at the federal level.
The Women’s Health Protection Act, already passed by the House, never expected it to pass in the evenly divided Senate. No Republican is in favor of it — not even Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who say they support reproductive rights but insist the Democratic law is too far-reaching — and Manchin already joined Republicans in February to beat a version of the legislation. He also opposed the most recent iteration, as well as changes to the filibuster that would be needed to make it. Still, Schumer pushed the mood, he saidso “the American people will see where every U.S. Senator stands.”
Manchin was the only Democrat to vote against the legislation; even senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, which has an unequal track record on reproductive rights, announced Tuesday that he would support the bill, saying he “has never voted for such a ban on abortion — nor do I support it.” Manchin said on Wednesday he would vote for “Roe v. Wade codification”, despite the fact that legislation has been voted twice in three months to do just that. Murkowski and Collins, meanwhile, have a narrower proposal to prevent states from imposing an “unnecessary burden” on those seeking abortion, but reproductive rights advocates say this plan not only fails to protect the status quo, but “in fact weakens protections.” that we have under current law.”
“If these senators really cared about ensuring reproductive freedom in the face of an unprecedented Supreme Court attack, they could vote for the Women’s Health Protection Act,” NARAL Pro-Choice America President Mini Timmaraju said in a statement ahead of the vote.
Hakeem Jeffries, the chairman of the Democratic caucus, said before the vote Wednesday that lawmakers would “fight” and “win” to protect agency against a “runaway Supreme Court.” How? With the current composition of the Senate and the Supreme Court, much is still unclear for the time being.