Sat. Jan 28th, 2023

Washington — The Senate is set to vote Wednesday afternoon on whether to advance legislation that would enshrine the right to an abortion established in Roe v. Wade into federal law, as Democrats scramble to protect abortion access nationwide after a draft Supreme Court opinion indicated the high court may overturn its near-50-year-old decision.

Democratic leaders are pressing ahead with the procedural vote even though it is almost certain to fail to garner the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster, arguing the need to bolster abortion rights at the federal level is too urgent to ignore.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced last week the Senate would vote to proceed to the bill, called the Women’s Health Protection Act, days after the draft majority opinion was leaked and published. But all 50 GOP senators are expected to vote against ending debate on the bill and at least one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, will join them. 

Manchin was the sole Democrat to join Republicans in blocking the measure when it was taken up by the Senate in February, and he told reporters ahead of Wednesday’s vote that he would support legislation that solely enshrines Roe’s protections into law, which he said would be the “reasonable, rational thing to do.”

“Make no mistake, it is not Roe v. Wade codification,” he said of the Women’s Health Protection Act. “It is an expansion, it wipes 500 state laws off the books, it expands abortion, and with that, that’s not where we are today. We should not be dividing this country further than we’re already divided, and it’s really the politics of Congress that’s dividing the country.”

Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania who opposes abortion, announced Tuesday he will vote to advance the measure and would support the bill if there is a vote on final passage. The House passed the bill along party lines in September.

Still, Schumer has said the possibility that the Supreme Court reverses its 1973 decision in Roe warrants an immediate response by the upper chamber, and he has called the vote “one of the most important” taken by the Senate in decades.

The White House supports passage of the bill and said in a statement of administration policy ahead of the Senate’s vote it’s “evident that the constitutional rights protected for nearly 50 years are now in severe jeopardy.”

“The urgency to protect women’s health, their fundamental right to control their reproductive choices, and the freedom of all people to build their own future has never been greater,” the White House budget office said.

The Women’s Health Protection Act would ensure access to abortion across the country free from many restrictions and prohibit certain limits on providers. But two Republican senators who support abortion rights, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, are opposed to the measure because of its breadth.

Instead, the pair have introduced their own, more tailored legislation that would enshrine into federal law protections established under Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 Supreme Court decision that reaffirmed Roe’s central holding and said states cannot enact restrictions that impose an undue burden on a woman’s right to an abortion before fetal viability.

Asked last week why he is not considering the GOP senators’ proposal, Schumer told reporters Democrats “are not looking to compromise on something as vital as this.”

Disclosure of the draft opinion last week sent shockwaves throughout the nation, sparking protests in major cities and outside the homes of several Supreme Court justices in the Washington, D.C.,-area. The document, written by Justice Samuel Alito and confirmed by the court as authentic, was circulated among the justices in February and indicated a majority of the court had voted to overturn Roe, which legalized abortion nationwide.

While the Supreme Court said the document did not represent a decision or the final position of its members, Politico reported Wednesday that Alito’s opinion remains the court’s only circulated draft in the pending case involving a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. None of conservative justices who sided with Alito initially — Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — have changed their votes, according to Politico.

The justices are set to meet for a closed-door conference Thursday, their first since the bombshell leak, which Roberts called a “betrayal of the confidences of the court.”

If the Supreme Court strikes down its 1973 decision in Roe, at least half the states are certain or likely to curtail abortion access, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion right.

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