When Do We Acknowledge the Filibuster in the Room?

Sen. Tina Smith introduced legislation to protect abortion pills, but willpower alone isn't enough to overcome Senate rules.

AbortionPolitics
When Do We Acknowledge the Filibuster in the Room?
Photo:Greg Nash (Getty Images)

Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) on Thursday introduced legislation to protect access to mifepristone, an abortion pill. It is heartening to see yet another senator forcefully stand up for abortion rights, but I fear it will not be enough.

The Protecting Access to Medication Abortion Act would preserve access to the pill through telehealth services and pharmacies, including by mail. “It is a critical step that we must take in order to help protect what remaining access will exist to reproductive health care after abortion is criminalized in many parts of this country,” Smith said in a statement.

But in an interview with NBC News, she said what we all know to be true: “The realities in the Senate are…we don’t have the votes right now.”

That’s the fucking rub. I don’t want to rag on Smith too much—like I said, she’s got a backbone and is actually doing something, unlike President Joe Biden—but when will Democrats stop introducing bills and get to the real heart of issue? It’s the filibuster.

This isn’t the first abortion rights bill that’s languished because Democrats don’t can’t clear a filibuster. In September 2021, the House passed the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would federally guarantee abortion access and protect providers. Sounds great, but it doesn’t seem to have a shot at passing the Senate. In fact, it’s twice come up for a cloture vote—which requires 60 votes to open debate on a bill, which will end in an up/down vote—and both times, Democratic senators couldn’t even get the votes to debate the bill.

Democrats, who hold the White House and control both chambers of Congress, are hanging their colleagues like Smith out to dry. They’re abandoning other woman senators as well, like Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who are leading the charge to butter up Biden’s ego to get him to do something—anything—for abortion rights; trying to protect medical data privacy via federal statute; and introducing a resolution to condemn the criminalization of pregnancy outcomes. That’s not enough, in my opinion, but they’re at least trying.

However, their attempts to try to make our lives livable (aka their goddamn jobs) are totally blocked by the filibuster.

At what point will politicians who are still on the kick that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare” wake up? Does Samuel Alito have to personally burn down a clinic for Biden to believe his retrograde decision will hurt real people? What happened to proactive legislating? What happened to giving your constituents what they want, which is gender equality?

If this sounds despairing, congratulations on your excellent reading comprehension. Now please, call your senator and ask them to get rid of the filibuster.

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