Senate Democrats came up short Wednesday in their bid to pass legislation erasing abortion limits as Republicans stood firm in a display of political theater triggered by last week’s leaked Supreme Court draft showing that Roe v. Wade is living on borrowed time.
The Senate voted 49-51 on the procedural cloture motion, falling well shy of the necessary 60 votes. Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, joined Republicans in opposing the measure.
Mr. Manchin said shortly before the vote that he would have supported a bill to codify Roe, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, but that the Women’s Health Protection Act went well beyond that.
“The bill we have today to vote on, Women’s Health Protection Act, and I respect people who support it, but make no mistake, it is not Roe v. Wade codification, it is an expansion,” Mr. Manchin told reporters. “It wipes 500, 500 state laws off the books. It expands abortion.”
House Democrats added to the drama by crossing to the Senate chamber for the vote chanting, “My body, my decision.”
President Biden said after the vote that Republicans “have chosen to stand in the way of Americans’ rights to make the most personal decisions about their own bodies, families and lives.”
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“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,” Mr. Biden said.
The legislation was expected to die in the Senate after passing the House last year, and failing to advance in the Senate in February, but was resurrected after the May 2 bombshell leak of a Supreme Court draft majority opinion by Justice Samuel Alito overturning Roe.
Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel warned that the bill would backfire on Democrats, predicting that voters would “hold Biden and Democrats accountable for being radical, cruel, and anti-science come November.”
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said the measure was needed to protect abortion rights from a “doomsday scenario,” and predicted dire consequences for Republicans in November.
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“This question will not go away. Americans strongly oppose getting rid of Roe, and they will be paying close attention from now until November to Republicans who are responsible for its demise,” Mr. Schumer said. “So to my Republican colleagues who spent the last week trying to talk about anything other than Roe, it’s time to go on record.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell countered that the vote would expose Democrats as being out of step on abortion with the American public.
“Democrats have decided to line up behind an extreme and radical abortion policy,” Mr. McConnell said. “Our Democratic colleagues want to vote on abortion on demand through all nine months until the moment before the baby is born, a failed showboat that will only prove their own extremism.”
Polls consistently show that most voters favor keeping Roe v. Wade, but also support restrictions on abortion access, including gestational deadlines for most procedures; waiting periods, and requiring doctors to perform abortions.
The legislation prohibits virtually all restrictions on abortion enacted by states. It also prevents governments from barring abortions before fetal viability, or after fetal viability “when a provider determines the pregnancy risks the patient’s life or health.”
Republicans warned that the measure, which passed the House last year, essentially permits abortion on demand until birth, given that the health exception typically includes mental health.
“The Democrats’ bill would functionally allow elective abortion through all nine months, abortion until the moment of birth,” Mr. McConnell said. “We are currently one of only seven countries worldwide that allows elective abortion after 20 weeks. That puts us in a group with China and North Korea.”
Democrats argued that the Supreme Court draft, which is not final, would move the country backward.
“This would be one of the very few times in American history where the court has taken away rights rather than expanding them,” said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, Nevada Democrat. “If this draft stands, young women would have fewer choices than their mothers and grandmothers had.”
Without Roe, states would be in charge of enacting their own abortion policies, which worried Democrats.
“The Women’s Health Protection Act is the only bill that can put an end to the restrictive state laws that have already put thousands of women in jeopardy,” said Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin Democrat. “The legislation meets the urgent need to protect the provider-patient relationship; protect the healthcare professionals who provide care, and protect the freedom and constitutional rights of women to access this care.”
Democrats also predicted that Republicans would try to ban the procedure nationwide if they take control of Congress in November.
“Across the country, Republicans in state legislatures are banning abortion and they are making it crystal clear they are going to go even further,” said Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat.
They cited Mr. McConnell’s comment last week that such legislation would be “possible” in a post-Roe world.
In a USA Today interview, Mr. McConnell said legislators would have the ability to take up the issue if the Supreme Court overturns Roe, but did not say that Republicans were planning to do so.
“If the leaked opinion became the final opinion, legislative bodies — not only at the state level but at the federal level — certainly could legislate in that area,” Mr. McConnell said in the Saturday interview.
Haris Alic contributed to this report.