Exactly six months ago today, a group of Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices gave the green light to Texas’ latest abortion ban, effectively ending Roe v. Wade protections in the nation’s second largest state. A day later, as regular readers might recall, 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. In September, the legislation passed the House, 218 to 211, overcoming the unanimous opposition of the chamber’s Republican members.
For reproductive-rights advocates, that was the good news. The bad news was, there’s a whole other chamber on the other side of Capitol Hill.
The companion version of the Women’s Health Protection Act in the Senate has 47 co-sponsors, which is 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.
With this in mind, the bill reached the Senate floor late yesterday, as NBC News reported, it couldn’t overcome a Republican filibuster.
The Senate voted 46-48 Monday to block a bill pushed by Democrats to codify abortion rights into federal law ahead of an expected Supreme Court decision that could limit access to the procedure. The legislation, the Women’s Health Protection Act, failed to garner the needed 60 votes to overcome a filibuster and would have fallen short of the 50 votes needed for passage after Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., joined Republicans in opposition.
Six senators — three from each party — were not on hand for the vote, but even if they’d been there, it wouldn’t have changed the outcome. (Note, this was a procedural vote to proceed with a debate on the legislation. Manchin and every Senate Republican in the chamber voted to prevent that debate from happening.)
Even Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, ostensibly Congress’ most pro-choice Republican, announced her opposition to the Women’s Health Protection Act last fall, and voted with her GOP colleagues yesterday.
Asked by NBC News about the dead end the bill faces, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington replied, “This is day one.”
That’s clearly true. Over the summer, the conservative-dominated Supreme Court is expected to hand down a landmark ruling on reproductive rights, and many have predicted that the justices will overturn Roe and end Americans’ right to lawfully terminate unwanted pregnancies.
The demands for new federal protections are likely to be fierce.
Keep in mind, legislation to codify Roe has been introduced in every Congress for a decade, but before 2021, it never received so much as a vote in committee. In this Congress, however, it passed the House, and received near-unanimous support from Senate Democrats. What’s more, President Joe Biden has extended his enthusiastic support to the proposal.
The Women’s Health Protection Act has gone from an afterthought in Democratic politics to a new staple of the party’s legislative agenda. Depending on what happens at the Supreme Court, its significance is likely to grow considerably.