Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) joined Senate Republicans on Monday to block a House-passed bill that would have codified Roe v. Wade.
The “Women’s Health Protection Act” (WHPA) was shot down in a 46-48 vote, failing to meet the 60-vote threshold required to end debate on a measure and send it to a simple majority floor vote.
The WHPA would have “protect[ed] a person’s ability to determine whether to continue or end a pregnancy, and to protect a health care provider’s ability to provide abortion services.”
Democrats pushed for the measure in response to a Texas law which prescribes penalties for doctors who abort an infant with a detectable heartbeat.
The Texas bill, in contrast to many similar “heartbeat bills” passed in red legislatures across the United States, functions using civil rather than criminal penalties. Individual citizens can sue doctors who perform an abortion after the infant’s heart has begun to beat.
The U.S. Supreme Court refused to shut down the law, leaving Democrats scrambling to protect abortion, which they consider a human right.
Later this year, the Supreme Court will hear another case on a Mississippi law that poses an even more direct challenge to the standard laid out in the 1973 case Roe v. Wade.
After the court said that it would not strike the law down, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced that Democrats would push for the WHPA to codify the broad outlines of Roe v. Wade—which bars states from banning abortion altogether.
House Democrats passed the WHPA in September in a 218-211 vote; All Democrats except one voted for the bill, while Republicans unanimously opposed the legislation.
In the Senate—where simple majorities are insufficient to pass legislation—the bill would have needed to win the support of all 50 Democrats plus 10 Republicans to go to a floor vote. Though this was an unlikely outcome in the evenly divided Senate, where the vice president’s vote gives Democrats the majority, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) pushed for the legislation anyway.
“Across the country, it’s a dark, dark time for women’s reproductive rights,” Schumer said in a Monday speech on the Senate floor. “It looks like the Supreme Court is close to drastically restricting this right in the coming months.”
“Congress must codify into law what most Americans have long believed, that abortion is a fundamental right and that women’s decisions over women’s health care belong to women, not—NOT—to extremist right-wing legislatures,” Schumer added.
The WHPA was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). All but two Democrats in the upper chamber—abortion opponents Joe Manchin and Sen. Robert Casey Jr. (D-Pa.)—cosponsored the bill.
At a news conference prior to the Senate vote, Blumenthal said: “This vote will be a rallying cry in November. This vote is going to awaken a lot of people, men and women, who grew up taking reproductive rights for granted.”
Casey voted with his party to start debate on the measure, accusing the GOP of “clear and unrelenting use of this issue as a political weapon.” However, Casey gave no indication that he would change his anti-abortion stance and vote for the bill when it came to a simple majority floor vote.
Republicans, who opposed the measure, applauded the failure of the WHPA and accused Democrats of pushing for “fringe pro-abortion politics.”
“With a cascade of major crises testing our country, Senate Democrats are prioritizing a show-vote on mandating 9 months of abortion-on-demand across America,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in a Monday speech on the Senate floor.
“Senate Democrats want to go on record supporting the radical and massively unpopular position that we should have functionally no restrictions on abortion whatsoever,” McConnell added.
In her own statement on the bill, swing-voting Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said that while she supports allowing some abortions, the WHPA “goes too far.”
“It would broadly supersede state laws and infringe on Americans’ religious freedoms,” Murkowski said.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), a staunchly pro-life lawmaker, applauded the defeat of the WHPA in a statement.
“Tonight, the hard-left formally kicked the old slogan of ‘safe, legal, and rare’ to the curb and embraced extreme pro-abortion politics,” Sasse said, referencing a line that President Bill Clinton repeated often. “This legislation will make Planned Parenthood’s army of lobbyists happy, but it’s going to alienate a lot of Americans.
“This pro-abortion extremism is completely out-of-touch with mainstream America. While Planned Parenthood, President Biden, and Speaker Pelosi embrace fringe pro-abortion politics, pro-lifers are offering a compassionate pro-baby, pro-woman, pro-science message.”
Given Manchin’s opposition to so much as ending debate on the measure and Casey’s general opposition to abortion, the bill almost certainly would have failed even if Democrats had overcome the 60-vote threshold.
Some Democrats have encouraged President Joe Biden to use executive powers to codify Roe v. Wade, but the White House has said that there is little that it can do to overrule SCOTUS.