WASHINGTON – House Democrats plan to pass broad legislation to defend abortion rights on Friday, taking urgent action after a major Supreme Court setback as they prepare for a decision next year that could further reduce access to abortion nationwide.
The House vote will be largely symbolic given that the bill, the Women’s Health Protection Act, has little chance of moving forward due to Republican opposition in the Senate. But House Democrats’ decision to consider it reflects their view that the issue could resonate strongly in the midterm elections next year, especially if female voters see Supreme Court action as a threat. for rights that many thought were long overdue.
Democrats were quick to schedule action on the measure after the court this month refused to block a Texas law that bans most abortions after six weeks gestation. This would guarantee the right to abortion through federal law, ahead of hundreds of state laws governing procedure across the country. Democrats argue he would codify Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that established a constitutional right to abortion.
The authors of the bill say they began drafting it a decade ago in response to emerging state-level efforts to impose strict requirements on those who seek and perform abortions, as well as the increasingly conservative composition of the tribunal. They say the court’s current makeup and hostility to abortion rights has validated the approach, and time is running out as judges are set to rule next year on a Mississippi law that severely restricts abortions. .
“It became very clear that we had to have something that would push back all of these state restrictions,” said Representative Judy Chu, Democrat from California and lead author of the measure. “We could see change was possible at the Supreme Court, and we knew we had to make sure Roe v. Wade was protected.”
But opponents of the law – including some Republicans who have supported the right to abortion – argue it would go far beyond historic judicial precedent, robbing states of much of their ability to regulate. abortion and to impose measures to make the procedure safe. They say it would lead to many more abortions in the later stages of pregnancy.
“This legislation is really about a federal government mandate that would require abortion on demand, without any consideration for anyone, including the conscience of the provider,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Republican from Washington and main enemy of the law Project.
Democratic supporters of the measure say they are confident they have the support they need to get approval from the House, which has yet to vote on it. But the Democratic-led Senate may fail to pass the bill, which appears to fall just short of majority support in that chamber.
At least two Democrats who oppose abortion rights, Senators Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, are against the legislation. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, has been reluctant to discuss action in the equally divided chamber which does not have at least 50 votes. Even if the bill could win a narrow majority, Republicans would be sure to block it, preventing it from moving forward unless it gets 60 votes, a figure that seems out of reach.
Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican who supports abortion rights and was seen as a potential vote for the new bill, said she would not support it in its current form.
“I support Roe’s codification,” Ms. Collins said. “Unfortunately, the bill the House drafted goes way beyond that.” She argued that this would “severely weaken” the protections afforded to health care providers who refuse to perform abortions on religious or moral grounds.
The Biden administration, highlighting Texas’ new legislation, supports the bill.
“Following the unprecedented attack in Texas, it has never been more important to codify this constitutional right and to strengthen access to health care for all women, regardless of their place of residence,” White House officials said in a statement. “Our daughters and granddaughters deserve the same rights that their mothers and grandmothers fought for and won – and which a clear majority of the American people support.”
Strong pressure from Democrats to measure abortion rights reflects a shifting political dynamic within the party. In the past, Democratic leaders have been reluctant to focus on measures like the Women’s Health Bill for fear of putting centrists in inner city neighborhoods in a difficult position and potentially alienating them. voters.
But as the ranks of the centrist Democrats have shrunk, the number of party lawmakers opposing the right to abortion has declined. Ms. Chu said she found out that her colleagues in competitive districts were eager to sign the measure.
“This is a pro-choice nation,” Representative Jan Schakowsky, Illinois Democrat and one of the main supporters of the legislation, told the House Rules Committee this week as she urged the panel to send the bill to the prosecution. “This is the majority view in most of the electorate.”
Numerous opinion polls conducted since the Supreme Court agreed to take over the Mississippi case have reflected strong support for keeping abortion legal – nearly 60% in some surveys – although this support generally wanes for abortions performed later in pregnancy.
Opponents argue that even those who support abortion rights to some extent still want the procedure to be tightly regulated and for states to establish safeguards and limits.
“Our biggest problem is certainly that it takes away the ability of state and local lawmakers to address the issues that they have identified and that their constituents are raising,” said Katie Glenn, government affairs advisor for Americans United for Life. “Thousands of state laws are threatened by this bill.”
Ms. Chu said some of these laws should be repealed, as their real intention was to make abortion more difficult and to discourage women from seeking them. While the measure is unlikely to authorize the Senate, she said Democrats need to act given Texas law and the likelihood of a major Supreme Court ruling after arguments set. for December about abortion restrictions in Mississippi.
“It is important for us to make a strong statement about what is possible in Congress,” Ms. Chu said, “to protect the freedom of women to make a choice”.