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House Democrats pass new bill to codify Roe v. Wade protections

The Women's Health Protection Act has gone from an afterthought in Democratic politics to a new staple of the party's legislative agenda.
Image: Judy Chu
Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., speaks during the third day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 27, 2016.Paul Sancya / AP file

On Sept. 1, five Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices gave the green light to Texas' new abortion ban, effectively ending Roe v. Wade protections in the nation's second largest state. On Sept. 2, the morning after the ruling, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi not only denounced the policy, she also announced plans to bring the Women's Health Protection Act to the floor.

The point of the legislation is simple: The bill would enshrine reproductive rights into federal law, codifying Roe's. This morning, as NPR reported, it passed the Democratic-led House.

The U.S. House on Friday approved a bill that Democrats say will protect a person's access to abortion. Passage of the Women's Health Protection Act to floor is a response to S.B. 8, a Texas law that bans abortion after six weeks, before most people realize they are pregnant.

The final tally in the chamber was 218 to 211: Literally zero Republicans voted for it, and it passed with the support of all but one House Democrat. (Texas' Henry Cueller broke ranks.)

It's a breakthrough moment of sorts for the bill's chief sponsor, Democratic Rep. Judy Chu of California, who first introduced the bill in 2013. The congresswoman proceeded to introduce the same measure in the next Congress, and the one after that, and the one after that.

Before this year, Chu's bill never even received a vote in committee. This morning, it nevertheless passed the House with the near-unanimous support of her Democratic colleagues.

For reproductive-rights advocates, that's the good news. The bad news, there's a whole other chamber on the other side of Capitol Hill.

There is a companion version of the Women's Health Protection Act in the Senate — Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal is the chief sponsor — and it has 47 co-sponsors. That's a relatively impressive number, but it's also the ceiling: Every senator inclined to vote for the bill has already endorsed it, and 47 isn't enough to get the legislation across the finish line.

Ordinarily, the problem is the 60-vote threshold created by the filibuster, and to be sure, that is relevant: Proponents would need at least 10 votes from Senate Republicans, and they have zero. Even Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, ostensibly Congress' most pro-choice Republican, announced her opposition this week to the Women's Health Protection Act.

But even if the filibuster didn't exist, the bill still wouldn't pass because a handful of Senate Democrats, including West Virginia's Joe Manchin, oppose abortion rights.

In other words, while today's House vote was a notable step, the bill almost certainly will not become law this Congress.

That said, President Joe Biden has extended his enthusiastic support to the proposal, and it's fair to say the Women's Health Protection Act has gone from an afterthought in Democratic politics to a new staple of the party's legislative agenda.