Senate to vote on nationwide abortion bill ahead of Roe decision

WASHINGTON — The Senate is set to vote Wednesday on advancing a Democratic-led bill that would enshrine broad protections for legal abortion nationwide, a move triggered by a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that indicates Roe v. Wade will likely be overturned.

The vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act, which has passed the House, is all but certain to fail, with just 49 senators expected to support the measure, below the 60-vote requirement to defeat a Republican filibuster.

Democratic leaders see the vote as an opportunity to stir up their base ahead of midterm elections in November in which their party faces stiff headwinds, from President Joe Biden’s negative approval ratings to voter concerns about inflation. Strategists in the party hope to make an impression on the sizable majority of Americans who want to uphold Roe v. Wade.

Among the 50 Democrats, only Sen. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, opposes the bill. He affirmed Wednesday he would vote to block it, arguing that it goes beyond simply codifying existing abortion protections, and added he would support a narrower bill.

“Make no mistake. It is not Roe v. Wade codification. It’s an expansion,” he said. “It expands abortion… We should not be dividing this country further than we’re already divided.”

Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, of Pennsylvania, who has held anti-abortion views for years, came out in favor of the bill Tuesday, saying the circumstances have changed.

All 50 Republicans oppose the legislation. Two of them — Sen. Susan Collins, of Maine, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska — say they support abortion rights and have proposed a narrower bill that includes carve-outs for religious or moral objections.

Ahead of the vote, Senate Democratic leaders circulated a letter from progressive and reproductive rights groups — including the Center for American Progress, NARAL and Planned Parenthood — arguing that the Collins-Murkowski bill is too narrow and “would not protect the right to abortion.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called it “one of the most important votes we take in this chamber in decades.”

“For the first time in 50 years a conservative majority — an extreme conservative majority — on the Supreme Court is on the brink of declaring that women do not have the right to an abortion, that they do not have the right to control their own bodies,” he said Tuesday.

While Democrats seek to paint Republicans and their chosen conservative judges as radical, the GOP has spent recent days arguing that Democrats are out of touch with most Americans, who say in surveys they favor some restrictions on legal abortion.

A Pew Research Center poll taken in March, before the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion, found that 61 percent of U.S. adults say they want abortion to be mostly legal; but just 19 percent say it should be legal in all cases, without exception.

“Today’s Democratic Party is profoundly out of step with the American people on this issue,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a floor speech. “Leader Schumer wants the Senate to vote again on a Democrat bill that would effectively legalize abortion on demand through all nine months.”

The leaked Supreme Court draft opinion may not be the final ruling and has no force of law until issued. But it has been widely expected that the court would overturn Roe v. Wade and the subsequent Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld a constitutional right to abortion.

As some Republicans weigh the pursuit of a nationwide abortion ban if they gain power, McConnell poured cold water on that prospect. Although he kept the door open to holding votes to curtail legal abortion, he promised to preserve the 60-vote threshold that applies to abortion bills if Republicans win control of the Senate.

“Historically, there have been abortion votes on the floor of the Senate. None of them have achieved 60 votes,” he told reporters Tuesday. “It’s safe to say there aren’t 60 votes there at the federal level.”

Kate Santaliz contributed.

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