Senate Republicans Block Vote to Guarantee Abortion Access Nationwide

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia joined all Republicans to oppose a bill that would effectively codify the right to an abortion across the U.S.

The Women’s Health Protection Act, a Democratic-led bill that would codify a right to an abortion, failed to pass, after it did not reach the Senate’s 60-vote threshold. (Screenshot from C-SPAN)

“Do you trust patients? Do you trust doctors? Do you believe every American should be able to make deeply personal decisions about parenting without government interference?” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) asked colleagues ahead of Wednesday’s vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act, federal legislation that would codify Roe v. Wade into law and establish the legal right to abortion in all 50 states. “If your answer is yes, then your vote should be on this as well.” 

Ultimately, the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA) failed to secure the 60-vote threshold needed to make it to the floor for a vote. All Senate Republicans, joined by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), prevented Senate cloture, which would have forced a vote. 

Present for the vote was Vice President Kamala Harris, who has spoken out forcefully on behalf of abortion rights. “Women in almost half the country could see their access to abortion severely limited,” Harris said in a speech last week at a gala hosted by EMILY’s List. “Those Republican leaders who are trying to weaponize the use of the law against women, well we say, ‘How dare they! How dare they tell a woman what she can do and cannot do with her own body. How dare they!'”

A possible avenue to pass WHPA would be to approve a suspension of the filibuster—either for all legislation, or simply for this abortion-related bill—which would only require 50 votes. But without all Democrats in favor, the chamber did not have a simple majority vote (50 plus Harris’s tie-breaking vote) necessary to make the procedural change. The two Democrats opposed to a filibuster carve-out for abortion are Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) and Manchin, and all Senate Republicans. 

WHPA has been reintroduced in several congressional sessions, but this iteration of the bill saw the highest numbers of original co-sponsors ever. The U.S. House of Representative made history in September of last year when it became the first U.S. legislative body to pass the bill—albeit narrowly, in a 218–211 vote—just three weeks after the state of Texas passed the most extreme abortion ban in U.S. history at the time. All House Republicans and Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas voted against it. (Cuellar now faces a Democratic primary challenger: Jessica Cisneros, a 28-year-old progressive immigration attorney running on a platform supportive of reproductive rights. Cisneros and Cuellar will go to a runoff election on May 24, after neither got more than 50 percent needed to win outright.)

This is not WHPA’s first appearance in the Senate. On Monday, Feb. 28, WHPA failed to pass in the Senate for the first time; Senate Republicans, again joined by Manchin, blocked the bill.

“We need our elected members of Congress to do better,” said Dr. Jamila Perritt, president and CEO of Physicians for Reproductive Health, after Wednesday’s vote. “This is not a theoretical, future problem; we are in crisis right at this very moment.”

When initially announcing the bill’s vote, Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told his colleagues last week the bill boils down to one question: “Do women in this country have a basic right to make their own choices when it comes to seeking an abortion—yes or no?” In addition to securing the right to have an abortion, WHPA would also guarantee abortion providers’ ability to perform the procedure.  

In a rare occurrence, Vice President Kamala Harris presided over Wednesday’s WHPA vote, which was 49-51. (Screenshot from C-SPAN)

Sixty percent of Americans believe the Supreme Court should uphold its 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which established the constitutional right to abortion, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll from November; just 27 percent believe it should be overturned. When asked specifically about the Texas law, which bans abortions after six weeks following someone’s menstrual period and is enforced by private vigilantes, an even larger percentage—65 percent—think the Supreme Court should reject the law. Seventy-five percent of Americans think the decision whether or not to have an abortion “should be left to the woman and her doctor.” 

The bill’s possibility to pass on Wednesday was a long shot—but Schumer’s decision to call another WHPA vote was a strategic one, as it asked senators to formally state their position on abortion access, giving Democrats leverage to attack Republicans ahead of the midterms. Schumer said of the vote, “Every American is going to see where every senator stands.”

May 14 Rallies Across the U.S.

Saturday, May 14, will see massive protests nationwide in defense of abortion rights. Head here to find or host a march near you.

Sign and share Ms.’s relaunched “We Have Had Abortions” petition—whether you yourself have had an abortion, or simply stand in solidarity with those who have—to let the Supreme Court, Congress and the White House know: We will not give up the right to safe, legal, accessible abortion.

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About

Roxy Szal is the digital editor at Ms. and a producer on the Ms. podcast On the Issues With Michele Goodwin. Before becoming a journalist, she was a Texas public school English teacher. She is based in Austin, Texas. Find her on Twitter @roxyszal.