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A Democratic-led bill to guarantee abortion access nationwide failed to advance in the Senate Wednesday in a show vote designed to draw sharp political lines ahead of the midterm elections.
Vice President Kamala Harris presided over the vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act. It needed 60 votes to advance, but died in a 51 to 49 vote with West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin joining with all Republicans in voting no.
President Biden immediately condemned Republicans for blocking the abortion rights legislation at a time when “women’s constitutional rights are under unprecedented attack.” He called on voters to elect more Democrats in November, so the legislation can get passed next year.
“Republicans in Congress – not one of whom voted for this bill – have chosen to stand in the way of Americans’ rights to make the most personal decisions about their own bodies, families and lives,” Biden said in a statement. “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.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., pushed a vote on the legislation after a leaked Supreme Court opinion signaled the court would overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade opinion that legalized abortion nationwide. He called the bill “urgent” to prevent states from passing extreme anti-abortion legislation that “would send women’s rights back into the Stone Age.”
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Manchin, a pro-life Democrat, said the legislation goes far beyond codifying the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision by wiping away state regulations, including bans on abortion earlier than 24 weeks.
“Make no mistake, it is not Roe v. Wade codification,” Manchin said. “It is an expansion.”
Even two pro-choice GOP senators — Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine – rejected the legislation as going too far by undercutting state limits on abortion, including bans on gender-based abortion. They wanted narrower legislation that would enshrine the legal right to abortion while protecting certain state regulations permitted under Roe.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, decried the Women’s Health Protection Act as a “radical, abortion on-demand bill” that will sweep away protections for religious liberty, conscience, taxpayer funding and partial-birth abortions. It “essentially makes abortion available on demand from the time of conception till the time of delivery,” he said.
Democrats, however, framed the debate as chance for senators to show where they stand on women’s rights and warned that many will be hurt if abortion rights are rolled back and women are forced to stay pregnant.
“Let’s get something straight: overturning Roe isn’t going to stop abortions. It’s only going to stop women from getting safe abortions and women will die as a result,” said Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said women’s freedoms are in jeopardy with trigger laws already in place in at least 13 states that immediately roll back abortion access if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
“The people of this country do not want to go backwards,” Klobuchar said.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., harkened back to the suffragette and civil rights movements. He said those who vote against the Women’s Health Protection Act are standing in the way of equality.
“It’s a vote against women, plain and simple,” Leahy said.
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The House already passed its version of the legislation back in September. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, was the only Democrat to vote against the legislation. Cuellar and Manchin are the only two reliably pro-life Democrats left in Congress.
Without a nationwide federal law on abortion, states would be left to decide abortion access if Roe v. Wade is overturned. That could set up a patchwork system where abortion is banned or severely restricted in sections of the country, but allowed in other parts – where women may have to travel great distances to see abortion providers.
Recent Fox News polling shows more than six in 10 registered voters continue to believe the U.S. Supreme Court should uphold Roe v. Wade, but more than half favor banning abortions after 15 weeks.
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The national poll was completed shortly before the recent leak of Associate Justice Samuel Alito’s draft majority opinion showing the high court may be poised to strike down the landmark Roe ruling.
At issue for the Supreme Court is a Mississippi law that would ban abortions, except in certain cases, after 15 weeks of pregnancy and return the question of abortion and its legality back to the states.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said while the Democratic proposal was too extreme he wants to work across the aisle to build up care for pregnant women.
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“I want to lock arms with pro-life Democrats and work to build a culture of life,” Sasse said. “If we can pair pro-life laws with increased spending on prenatal care and safety nets for struggling moms, great – let’s do it.”
Fox News’ Caroline McKee and Victoria Balara contributed to this report.