WASHINGTON — Democrats are forging ahead with what is likely a doomed vote on Wednesday to counter the Supreme Court’s reported plans to gut the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, saying they plan to use the effort as a way to put lawmakers who do not support abortion rights on the spot.
Senate Republicans appeared comfortably united in opposition to the bill. But their leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, nevertheless attempted to tamp down talk they would seek to ban abortions nationwide should the GOP gain control of the Senate in the fall, as the leaked Supreme Court draft continued to roil the nation’s politics.
The vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would provide a federal right to an abortion that states cannot revoke, is almost certain to fail, with Democrats, who narrowly control the Senate, falling far short of the 60-vote supermajority needed to pass most legislation due to the body’s filibuster rule and unified GOP opposition.
Lawmakers portrayed the vote as a way to harness the anger among some voters at Republicans who don’t support abortion rights, given polling that suggests a majority of Americans do not want the court to strike down Roe v. Wade. When pressed by a reporter on Tuesday, Democratic majority leader Chuck Schumer declined to provide a backup plan if the legislation fails to pass.
“The bill tomorrow puts everybody on the record about whether or not they believe that women are full citizens in this country and whether they are entitled to make determinations of their own bodies,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. “It’s not just symbols. This is about holding elected officials accountable.”
Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington said the vote would prevent Republicans from deflecting the issue ahead of midterm elections in the fall. Many Republicans have instead focused on decrying the leak of the draft, which Politico published last week, rather than discussing the end of abortion protections.
“This week they keep trying to distract from the issue at hand as if anything could possibly distract women across the country from the heartbreak and the outrage of knowing our daughters and our granddaughters could have fewer rights that we did,” Murray said.
But McConnell insisted his party wants to leave the issue to the states, despite his earlier comments that a federal ban was “possible.”
“Let me make it perfectly clear, in spite of suggestions to the contrary, there are no issues which Senate Republicans believe should be exempt from the 60-vote threshold,” McConnell said Tuesday, adding that he did not believe there would ever be 60 votes in the Senate to ban abortion. “I think the widespread sentiment of my conference is this issue will be dealt with at the state level.”
The pressure has at the very least coalesced support among Democrats. A key Democratic holdout on the bill, Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, announced Tuesday that he would vote for the measure, citing reports that Republican senators would seek to ban the procedure entirely.
But West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who voted against bringing up a similar proposal in February, has not yet announced his position, which raises the possibility that the bill will not even garner 50 votes by Wednesday. The House has already passed a bill to codify Roe.
No Republicans appear likely to cross the aisle to support the Women’s Health Protection Act. Two pro-abortion rights Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, said they oppose the measure because they believe it would not allow states to enact some restrictions to abortion that the Supreme Court allowed in the 1992 case Planned Parenthood vs. Casey. That decision held that rules such as 24-hour waiting periods for abortion did not violate Roe. Collins said she is working with Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia on a different version of the bill that she could support.
“If in fact the Democrats really want to protect the current state of affairs with regard to abortion, then they should seek to codify Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood vs. Casey’s decision,” Collins said. “They, instead, are going way beyond that and are superseding any federal or state restrictions. I don’t understand why they’re taking such an extreme approach.”
When asked about the narrower bill preferred by Collins and Murkowski, Senator Mazie Hirono, a Democrat of Hawaii, seemed confounded by their reasoning.
“I didn’t know that Senators Collins and Murkowski had problems with Roe,” she said. “Basically, the bill we’re going to be voting on tomorrow codifies Roe. So I don’t understand why. They should be asked why they aren’t prepared to vote for the bill that codifies Roe.”
McConnell, meanwhile, attempted to distance Republicans from the idea of banning abortion nationwide after his recent comment to USA Today that such a ban is “possible” attracted blistering criticism, while some of his own members expressed openness to such a ban. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this week that she believed the country was “at serious risk” of having abortion banned nationwide in the future.
Indeed, Senator James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican who supports restricting abortion, said he believed lawmakers would discuss abortion bans that would begin at the moment of conception, or at 6, 15 and 21 weeks’ gestation. Lankford said he would not be willing to get rid of the filibuster to pass an abortion ban with a bare majority of Republican senators, however.
“If we end the filibuster, then basically every few years it just switches back and forth as far as federal law. That’s not helpful for the country,” he said.
The prospect of another failed vote led some liberals in the opposite direction, again calling for getting rid of the filibuster — although moderate senators within their caucus oppose doing so.
Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, said ending the filibuster could be a strategic move: galvanizing Democratic voters ahead of the upcoming midterms.
“Getting rid of the filibuster would raise the urgency of pro-choice voters to elect Democrats,” he said. “I ultimately don’t think democracy functions well when the minority has this much power.”
But with Wednesday’s vote doomed to fail, Hirono, who said she’s been battling those who want to roll back abortion rights since the 1980s, dispensed with strategy and just expressed her rage.
“I’ve been pretty much pissed off for decades, you could say that,” she said. “But it’s now a clear and present danger that now they are going to get what they want, because they now have a Supreme Court that is very right-wing and extreme. So everybody needs to wake up to what the Supreme Court is doing.”
Pranav Baskar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.