U.S. Senate Democrats fail to enshrine nationwide abortion protections, vow more action | Pittsburgh City Paper

U.S. Senate Democrats fail to enshrine nationwide abortion protections, vow more action

Pennsylvania’s U.S. senators, Bob Casey and Pat Toomey, were on opposite sides of the bill

click to enlarge U.S. Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey
U.S. Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey
Efforts to secure the nationwide right to an abortion stalled for a second time on May 11 when U.S. Senate Democrats failed to get enough votes to overcome the legislative filibuster.

Republicans, including Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, voted uniformly against limiting debate on the bill while Democrats, save West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, voted to advance the measure toward final passage.

The 49-51 procedural vote was the second time this year Senate Democrats have attempted to advance a bill to codify the right to an abortion. But it was the first vote on abortion access since Politico published a leaked draft opinion from Associate Justice Samuel Alito showing the U.S. Supreme Court poised to overturn Roe v. Wade within the next two months.


Democrats said during debate on the bill that codifying nationwide protections would continue allowing pregnant patients and their doctors to make that decision while Republicans argued the Supreme Court wrongly ruled twice that abortion access is a constitutional right, saying it’s an issue for legislatures to decide.

“It is a real irony in the Republican Party that in so many instances they would describe themselves as supporters of limited government and here they want to be in the bedroom, in the doctor’s office, in the delivery room,” Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin said during an interview with the Capital-Star’s Washington Bureau on Wednesday.

“And, I think, the condescension to women, who need to be the ones who make these really, really significant choices, is very apparent.”

Pennsylvania’s two U.S. senators, Democrat Bob Casey Jr., of Scranton, and Republican Pat Toomey, of Lehigh County, were on opposite sides of the bill heading into Wednesday’s vote.


In a statement released ahead of the vote, Casey, who opposes abortion, but has supported family planning and satellite issues, said he would vote to advance the bill, and planned to vote in favor of it, if it ever reached that point. The announcement represented a major turning point for Casey.

“In the nearly three months since the Senate last voted on the Women’s Health Protection Act, the circumstances around the entire debate on abortion have changed,” Casey said. “In light of the leaked Supreme Court decision draft overturning Roe v. Wade, and subsequent reports that Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate will introduce legislation to enact a nationwide six-week ban, the real question of the moment is: do you support a categorical ban on abortion?  During my time in public office, I have never voted for — nor do I support — such a ban.”

In a statement released after the vote, Toomey called the bill, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) “extreme.”

“The vast majority of Americans support restrictions on abortion, yet the bill the Senate is considering today would allow an individual to obtain an abortion, as a practical matter, at any time for any reason up until the moment of birth,” Toomey said.

“This partisan bill would also override many state laws in meaningful ways, endangering even the minimal health and safety standards enacted in Pennsylvania after the discovery of Kermit Gosnell’s atrocities. This vote is a political stunt designed to further inflame heightened tensions around this issue and to appease the Democrats’ radical base,” he said.


Blumenthal’s proposal, would have given health care providers the right to perform abortions and for patients to terminate their pregnancy without having to adhere to 11 different government restrictions.

Health care providers would not have been required to perform tests or procedures that weren’t medically necessary, or to give patients medically inaccurate information before performing an abortion.

Governments couldn’t have banned abortions before the viability threshold, typically between 22 and 24 weeks into a pregnancy and post-viability abortions couldn’t be restricted when “in the good-faith medical judgment of the treating health care provider, continuation of the pregnancy would pose a risk to the pregnant patient’s life or health.”

Health care providers could not be restricted from prescribing medication abortion as long as it was based on “current evidence-based regimens or the provider’s good-faith medical judgment, other than a limitation generally applicable to the medical profession.”

Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley argued against the bill during floor debate, saying the measures were “radical” and that it “goes much further than its stated position to codify the Roe v. Wade decision.”

“Some states have protected individuals from having to perform abortions against their own religious beliefs. We can’t stand by as those common sense laws are under attack by the Democrats. And this legislation attacks those laws,” Grassley said.

Democratic leaders have said the vote was the first step in their efforts to show Americans the difference between the two political parties on abortion access, though the second step remains somewhat murky.

Democrats have repeatedly called for Americans to contact their lawmakers and urged abortion rights supporters to vote during November’s midterm elections.

But, it’s highly unlikely Democrats will be able to pass an abortion bill in the near future, even if they pick up several seats following the elections.

The U.S. Senate’s process for advancing major legislation, known as the legislative filibuster, requires at least 60 senators to vote to limit debate on a bill and move on to final passage. The last time one political party held more than a supermajority of seats was during the 95th Congress from 1977 to 1979 when Democrats held 61 seats and one Independent caucused with the Democrats.

But Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, Maine’s Collins, and Alaska’s Murkowski are looking for a bipartisan way forward.

Kaine said Wednesday that he’s having “productive discussions” with the two abortion-rights Republicans about legislation they could support that would also garner Democratic support.

“I’ve worked on things with Lisa and Susan before and negotiated. And [we] often find an answer that we can live with,” Kaine said. “That’s the spirit of the discussions.”

If they are able to reach agreement on a bipartisan bill to codify Roe v. Wade, Kaine said, he didn’t expect it would have the needed 60 Senate supporters immediately.

But, he thinks the actual Supreme Court ruling later this year could change the conversation from the “abstract” state it’s in now, where some people think the Republican-nominated justices could change their minds and not completely undo the nationwide right to an abortion.

“It’s probably not gonna have 60 votes out of the gate. But this is a situation that is very much a live controversy that’s leading to discussion in every home and every community in the country,” Kaine said.

Murkowski said Wednesday that she voted against the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022 because she felt it went beyond codifying abortion rights as they exist now under Supreme Court precedent.

“What I’m looking forward to is an opportunity to actually codify Roe versus Wade as we have the law in place now,” she said.

Manchin, the sole Democrat to vote against the bill, said he wants to codify Roe v. Wade, but thought the measure up for a vote Wednesday was too broad.

“I just want to make it a clean bill,” he said.

New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said she plans to continue talking about abortion rights with her constituents, “who are very worried about what the implications are” of ending the constitutional right to an abortion.

Baldwin plans to do the same, noting Republicans’ position on abortion, including that women who are survivors of rape or incest be required to carry a pregnacy to term, are “radical and extreme.”

Democrats will “shine a light on the consequences that this Supreme Court decision” would have on people throughout the country, she said.

“For example, in my case in Wisconsin, we would immediately revert to a law passed in 1849. Things were different in 1849 than they are today,” Baldwin said. “They talk about going back half a century with Roe versus Wade, but in Wisconsin, that’s over 170 years. And so I want to make sure that they’re aware of that and making the connection that who they vote for matters.”
John Micek is the Editor in Chief of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story first appeared. Jennifer Shutt covers the nation’s capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom.