By ALICE MIRANDA OLLSTEIN
The 46-48 vote comes just a few months before the Supreme Court is to rule on half-century old protections for the procedure and before the midterm elections.
The Senate failed to advance the Women’s Health Protection Act on Monday night — leaving Democratic advocates and lawmakers wondering what else, if anything, the party can do to protect abortion rights as they come under attack from federal courts and Republican-led states.
The 46-48 vote comes just a few months before the Supreme Court is to rule on half-century old protections for the procedure and before the midterm elections, when many expect Democrats to lose control of one or both chambers of Congress.
“It is a dark, dark time for women’s reproductive rights,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters ahead of the vote. “We cannot simply stand by and let this happen. There is too much at stake.”
Yet Schumer and other leading Democrats did not have a clear answer Monday on what they plan to do to shore up abortion rights ahead of the Supreme Court’s expected decision to limit or eliminate Roe v. Wade, and largely cast the vote as a referendum on the issue ahead of the midterm elections.
“We, and the American people, will find out whose side our colleagues are on,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) told reporters.
The bill, which progressive lawmakers have pushed since 2013, would have gone further than codifying Roe v. Wade into federal law by barring states from enacting restrictions on abortion both later and earlier in pregnancy. The House narrowly passed the legislation last fall, but unanimous opposition from Republicans as well as opposition from Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) in the Senate led to it coming up short of the 60 votes needed to advance. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), one of the few Republicans who has voiced support for abortion rights, also voted to stop the measure from moving forward, telling reporters the bill would have “very troubling” implications for religious freedom.
Both abortion-rights and anti-abortion-rights groups mobilized ahead of the Senate vote, ramping up pressure on the more conservative Democrats and more moderate Republicans whose votes were seen as getable. Powerful conservative groups like Susan B. Anthony List and Students for Life of America led demonstrations outside the Capitol on Monday, and said they were “scoring” the vote and using it to determine which lawmakers to support in future races.
“We will work tirelessly to hold members of Congress accountable for their votes,” said SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser.
Republican senators blasted the bill in speeches ahead of the vote, comparing abortion to infanticide and accusing Democrats of extremism.
Despite the bill’s failure, supporters of the measure argue that holding the vote helped highlight the six-month anniversary of Texas’ six-week abortion ban taking effect and the Supreme Court decision on the fate of Roe v. Wade, which is expected before the end of June. They also said the vote recorded how members stand on abortion rights heading into the midterm elections.
“This vote will be a rallying cry in November,” predicted Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), the lead author of the bill. “This vote is going to awaken a lot of people who grew up taking reproductive rights for granted.”
But progressive advocates say Democrats in Congress and the Biden administration must do more before then to protect abortion rights.
“As state legislative chambers escalate their aggressive assaults on reproductive freedoms, we need lawmakers at all levels of government to step up in this moment of crisis,” Planned Parenthood President Alexis McGill Johnson stressed in a statement following the vote.
Two top priorities abortion-rights supporters are now pushing are stronger action from the FDA against states restricting the distribution of abortion pills and Congress passing a budget that lifts the longstanding ban on federal spending on abortion.
“We’re going to continue advocating at the state level but eventually Congress is going to need to fix this,” said Nancy Northup, the president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is fighting a Mississippi abortion ban now before the Supreme Court. “Not every state is going to be able to protect their citizens on this front.”
However, Democrats on Capitol Hill have all but conceded that they lack the votes to lift the Hyde amendment, which has blocked nearly all federal funding for abortion since the 1970s.