An exam room at the Whole Women's Health Clinic in McAllen, Texas, March 4, 2014.
Photo by Jennifer Whitney/The New York Times/Redux

With shutdown deadline looming, Senate takes up abortion ban

The federal government is poised to shut down a week from tomorrow, which might lead the typical voter to believe lawmakers are scurrying to find a solution before it’s too late. That’s not exactly what’s happening, at least not yet.
Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked a Republican bill that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The measure failed to advance in a 54-42 vote, falling short of the 60 vote threshold needed. […]
Republican leaders are hoping the vote on the 20-week ban, which comes the same day that Pope Francis arrives in Washington, will give members a chance to register their anti-abortion views without running the risk of a government shutdown.
And that’s what makes today’s vote interesting. Everyone, on both sides of the political divide, knew that this bill would fail, but Senate GOP leaders proceeded anyway – so that members could “register” their views. Today, in other words, was less about governing and more about political theater. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hopes a shutdown will be less likely if his far-right members blow off some steam.
The final roll call is online here. Note, three Senate Democrats – Sens. Bob Casey (Pa.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) – voted with the GOP majority, while two Senate Republicans – Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Mark Kirk (Ill.) – voted with the Democratic minority.
All four of the Republicans running for president were on hand for today’s vote – all four voted for it – and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was also there to vote against it.
So, what happens now?
As a practical matter, the symbolism doesn’t amount to much. Far-right lawmakers who’ve been pushing a shutdown haven’t changed their minds. Their goal isn’t to register an opinion for the sake of public relations; it’s to actually shape public policy in their preferred way.
With this in mind, today’s theater brings us no closer to a shutdown remedy. Since it wasted limited time, the move arguably did the exact opposite.
As for the substance, as regular readers may recall, because roughly 99% of abortions occur before the 21st week of a pregnancy, these later terminations often involve “rare, severe fetal abnormalities and real threats to a woman’s health.” It’s why the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is so strongly against legislation like this.

What’s more, today’s Senate vote was on the bill the House already approved in May. That bill included what is effectively a waiting period for rape victims – Congress wants to extend the time women have to consider whether they want to bear their rapist’s child – and instructs medical professionals on how they’re supposed to perform abortions.
President Obama has already made clear he will veto the bill if it ever reaches his desk.
In the meantime, GOP leaders on the Hill still have no idea how to prevent a shutdown next week, and the House isn’t scheduled to do any work today at all.

Abortion, House Of Representatives and Senate Republicans

With shutdown deadline looming, Senate takes up abortion ban