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Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Roe v. Wade is now in the hands of the Supreme Court. Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Legislative effort to codify Roe v. Wade falls in the U.S. Senate

With the Supreme Court set to rule in the Spring on a case that could undermine abortion access, Democratic legislators made one last push, and failed.

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On Monday, Feb. 28, a bill to protect the right to have an abortion in the U.S. died in the Senate after it failed to gain enough Republican support to pass a procedural vote.

While the Women’s Health Protection Act wasn’t expected to be successful, Democratic leaders felt pressure from constituents to put it to a vote anyway in a show of support for federal reproductive rights.

Advocates for reproductive rights see federal legislation as one of the best ways to codify the right to abortion in the country, especially after the Supreme Court’s conservative judges indicated they could soon cut constitutional protections.

“Sadly, it seems like the Supreme Court is posed to severely limit abortion rights in the coming months. That’s why this bill is essential. Congress must codify into law what most Americans have long believed — that abortion is a fundamental right,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. 

The bill needed several Republicans to support it to reach the necessary 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster. The final vote was 46-48. Every Republican and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin voted against proceeding to the bill. 

The Women’s Health Protection Act, co-sponsored by 48 Senate Democrats, states that healthcare providers should be able to provide abortions without a number of barriers — including restrictions on abortions prior to fetal viability, which many states currently have in place. 

It also proposed that the U.S. Attorney General could sue any state or government official who violated its terms. 

In September 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Act making it the first time legislation to preserve abortion rights under federal law would have been enacted.

The right to have an abortion prior to fetal viability, typically around 23 or 24 weeks, has been protected under the Constitution since the Supreme Court's 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade.

In December, the Supreme Court signaled its willingness to undermine Roe v. Wade and permit a Mississippi ban on abortion after 15 weeks. The court's decision in that case is expected in late Spring 2022.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights advocacy research group, about 26 states would move to immediately ban abortion if Roe is overturned. 

Democratic Senators, advocacy groups and the White House itself have condemned Monday’s vote. 

On Tuesday, March 1, White House press secretary Jen Psaki released a statement responding to the blocked bill. 

“It is extremely disappointing that Senate Republicans blocked passage of the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would strengthen health care access and codify constitutional rights affirmed half a century ago by Roe v. Wade and in subsequent Supreme Court precedent,” Psaki wrote. 

“By failing to advance the Women’s Health Protection Act, Senate Republicans are depriving millions of women, especially low-income women, and women of color, of healthcare they need when they need it. I refuse to let my daughters grow up in a world with fewer rights than I had, and I won’t stop working to codify Roe v. Wade,” said Sen. Tammy Duckworth.

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