The U.S. Senate Wednesday failed to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, meant to write the right to abortion into federal law.
Senators voted 51-49 against advancing the bill, with Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia joining all Republicans in opposing it. It would have taken 60 votes in favor of the bill to overcome the filibuster, a rule by which it takes that many votes to end debate on a bill and move to a vote on the legislation itself.
Calling the vote was a way for Democrats to take a stand for abortion rights when a leaked Supreme Court opinion indicating the court will overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide while allowing states to place some restrictions on the procedure later in pregnancy.
“The Democratic legislation, led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), would go beyond codifying Roe v. Wade,” Politico reports. “It would ban states from enacting many kinds of abortion restrictions, including those currently allowed under Roe that are deemed ‘medically unnecessary,’ like mandatory waiting periods and regulations on clinics, known as TRAP laws. In the latest version of the bill, Democrats removed nonbinding language about transgender rights and the disparate racial impacts of abortion restrictions.”
The push to remove that language came from moderate Democrats, the site notes. The Advocate has sought comment from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer regarding its removal but has not yet received a response.
The Democratic-majority House has already passed a version of the bill, but the Senate was less likely to, given the 60-vote filibuster threshold and the fact that the Senate is divided 50-50 between Democrats (and the two independents who caucus with them) and Republicans. If a simple majority were all that was needed, Vice President Kamala Harris could break a tie, undoubtedly in favor the Democrats.
Manchin not only opposes abortion rights, he opposes changing the filibuster rule. Another Democrat, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, also opposes lifting the filibuster, but she is pro-choice and voted for the abortion rights bill. She is the only out bisexual U.S. senator.
LGBTQ+ groups and other civil rights organizations released statements lamenting Wednesday’s vote.
“Americans are watching as lawmakers vote to deny our human rights to bodily autonomy and healthcare, which, make no mistake, is what abortion is,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD. “Everyone should have the right to make decisions about their own body, whether or not to have kids, and when and how to raise a family. To the 51 Senators who blocked a vote to codify Roe into law, including Sen. Joe Manchin: voters see you, we will not go back, and we will keep fighting. An attack on abortion rights is an attack on the LGBTQ community too; our civil liberties are inextricably linked. I’m calling on the full LGBTQ community, including cisgender men, to stand up for abortion rights today. Just like they’re coming for abortion, they’re coming for our families and our privacy. The time is now, and our very freedom is at stake.”
“Today, Republicans in the Senate once again failed the American people,” said NARAL Pro-Choice America President Mini Timmaraju. “The recently leaked draft decision made clear that the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade and underscored how urgent our fight to protect reproductive freedom is — but these out-of-touch lawmakers simply do not care. Instead of safeguarding our fundamental rights, Republican senators have once again abdicated their responsibility.
Timmaraju also thanked the Democratic leadership for bringing the vote to the Senate floor, adding, “We know that these cruel bans and restrictions on abortion most harm those who already face barriers to accessing the care they need — including women; Black, Indigenous, and people of color; those working to make ends meet; LGBTQ+ people; immigrants; young people; those living in rural communities; and people with disabilities. We must take action to fight back.”
“If the leaked draft opinion holds, low-income people seeking an abortion will not be able to afford to get to states that will care for their reproductive health,” said Maya Wiley, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “What of them? Black women and American Indian and Native Alaskan women die at two to three times the rate of White women in pregnancy-related complications. LGBTQ individuals, including nonbinary people and transgender men, will have their health at risk. Every person deserves the ability to make the health care decisions that are right for them, free from government interference and discrimination. Abortion rights are fundamental rights. We will not stand idly by as the attacks on reproductive freedom and personal health continue. We will work in coalition, fighting for abortion access and local and state-level protections, and we will do so as long as it takes.”
President Joe Biden and Vice President Harris also issued statements denouncing the Senate vote. “Republicans in Congress — not one of whom voted for this bill — have chosen to stand in the way of Americans’ rights to make the most personal decisions about their own bodies, families and lives,” Biden said. “To protect the right to choose, voters need to elect more pro-choice senators this November, and return a pro-choice majority to the House. If they do, Congress can pass this bill in January, and put it on my desk, so I can sign it into law.”
Harris added, “Let’s be clear, the majority of the American people believe in defending a woman’s right, her choice to decide what happens to her own body. And this vote clearly suggests that the Senate is not where the majority of Americans are on this issue. It also makes clear that a priority for all who care about this issue — a priority should be to elect pro-choice leaders at the local, the state, and the federal level, because what we are seeing around this country are extremist Republican leaders who are seeking to criminalize and punish women for making decisions about their own body.”
Activists have pointed out that overturning Roe would clear the way for threatening other rights, including the right to contraception, the right to private consensual sex with an adult partner of one’s choice, and the right to marry a person of the same sex. Also, many have noted that abortion is indeed an LGBTQ+ issue.
“Both sexuality and gender are fluid and varied,” Steph Black wrote recently in The Advocate. “AFAB nonbinary people, trans men, bisexual and pan women who date cis men — these are just some examples of those in the LGBTQ+ community who may need access to abortion care if they get pregnant and don’t want to be.” In addition, there are sometimes complications in pregnancies conceived through assisted reproductions, and there are pregnancies that result from rape.
“Just because you might not need an abortion for the reasons straight people might doesn’t mean you or someone you love won’t need one in the future,” Black added.