The Senate Decides Abortion Isn’t Worth Protecting

As expected, Democrats fell short of the 60 votes needed to open debate on codifying Roe v. Wade in law.

The Senate Decides Abortion Isn’t Worth Protecting
Photo:J. Scott Applewhite (AP)

Following a depressing round of speeches in which one Republican senator compared fetuses to sea turtle eggs, the Senate failed to codify the right to abortion for Americans, yet again, on Wednesday afternoon. The Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA), a bill that would essentially enshrine Roe v. Wade in federal law, failed to pass the threshold to open debate. The Senate Floor was mostly empty during the vote, except for a gallery full of young congressional staffers—those of reproductive age, it seems—watching their rights go unprotected.

The final vote was 49-51: All Republicans, including the supposedly “pro-choice” Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), voted no along with Democrat Joe Manchin (W.V.), while the rest of the Dems voted yes.

The legislation needed 60 votes to break a filibuster, because Democrats (namely, Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.)) won’t scrap the procedure to be able to actually get anything done. This same outcome happened back in February, when the Senate failed to invoke cloture 46-48. The WHPA has been languishing in the Senate for months as abortion rights are systematically stripped on the state level. Until the filibuster is reformed (or the Majority Whip gets some serious dirt on Republicans), the bill will continue to die on the senatorial vine.

Perhaps recognizing the urgency of federal protection for abortion rights, the House of Representatives passed the WFPA months ago in September 2021. House Democrats marched to the Senate chambers on Wednesday protesting the lack of action, chanting “My body, my decision.”

The organized showing among Democratic representatives is a much smaller version of the thousands who marched last week around the country to protest the leaked Supreme Court opinion draft that would end the right to legal abortion. The draft, while not binding, showed that the court’s conservative supermajority has the votes needed to kill Roe v. Wade. This Saturday, women’s rights organizations will host 300-plus marches around the country in protest. (The biggest protests are scheduled in cities like New York City that won’t face severe restrictions if this leaked opinion is finalized as is, but I digress…)

The protests against anti-abortion Democrats worked on at least one senator, however. On Tuesday, pro-abortion activists staged a sit-in at the Harrisburg, Penn., office anti-abortion Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) to demand his vote on WHPA. Casey said he would vote for WHPA and would support filibuster reforms to pass the bill in the future. (This is huge deal because of his anti-abortion past, but also because Casey’s dad is Casey of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a Supreme Court case that limited abortion rights.)

But the protesting is not budging other anti-abortion Democrats. Manchin told reporters on Wednesday that he couldn’t vote for WHPA because it would nullify state anti-abortion laws. And while it’s comforting that Manchin, an elected official, can read, it’s annoying that his comprehension isn’t quite there. He’s almost getting it. The point of a law like WHPA is to eliminate states actively hampering bodily autonomy. The law would wipe out TRAP (targeted restriction on abortion providers) laws and protect patients’ right to the abortion as well. This is a good thing.

But 51 Senators who don’t represent the majority will of the American people would rather have a small group of ultra-conservative legal cranks (including two credibly accused of violating women) decide the fate of bodily autonomy in this country. Cool system we have here!

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