Senate Democrats will force Republicans to vote on abortion rights
Senate Democrats, outraged a draft opinion by conservative Justice Samuel Alito overturning Roe v. Wade, say they will force Republicans to vote on legislation to codify abortion rights, but they are not expected to have enough support to pass a bill.
“Now that the court is poised to strike down Roe, it is my intention for the Senate to hold a vote on legislation to codify the right to an abortion in law,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced on Tuesday morning. “A vote on this legislation is not an abstract exercise. This is as urgent and real as it gets. We’ll vote to protect a women’s right to choose.”
Democrats also will put Republicans on record on whether they support exceptions to abortion bans in cases of rape and incest, which the Mississippi law that the Supreme Court is expected to rule on does not allow.
“We’re discussing at this point what our next move is,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “There is discussion about floor action on this basic issue from the Alito opinion and we’re going to make a decision on that shortly.”
Durbin said Democratic leaders will be “asking the senators to go on record on aspects of this, for instance rape and incest exceptions.”
Speaking of his Republican colleagues, Durbin said “many of them have said that should be included yet the Mississippi law, which is at issue here, does not include those protections specifically.”
Durbin, however, said “there is no discussion about expanding the court,” something that liberal activists have called for in response to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) stacking the high court with conservatives by holding the seat of late Justice Antonin Scalia vacant for ten months in 2016 and his speedy confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett before the 2020 presidential election.
Durbin noted that there are not 60 votes in the Senate to pass legislation to codify Roe v. Wade in the 50-50 Senate.
Centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) describes himself as “pro-life” — meaning against abortion rights — and, along with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), has said repeatedly that he does not support abolishing the legislative filibuster, which requires most bills to muster 60 votes to pass the Senate.
Senate Republicans in February blocked the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill to protect a person’s right to decide whether to end a pregnancy and to protect health care providers’ ability to provide abortion services. Manchin was the only Democrat to vote against it.
Manchin and Sinema on Tuesday reiterated their support for keeping the filibuster in place.
Sinema argued the 60-vote threshold for passing most legislation is important for preserving abortion rights, noting past efforts to chip away at Roe v. Wade with federal legislation.
“Protections in the Senate safeguarding against the erosion of women’s access to health care have been used half-a-dozen times in the past ten years, and are more important now than ever,” she said.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a leading progressive, called on Senate leaders to bring legislation to the floor to establish a national right to an abortion along the lines of the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade.
“Congress must pass legislation that codifies Roe v. Wade as the law of the land in this country NOW,” Sanders tweeted Monday evening. “And if there aren’t 60 votes in the Senate to do it, and there are not, we must end the filibuster to pass it with 50 votes.”
Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) said Democratic attempts to codify abortion rights are aimed at revving up their liberal base.
“This is part of their agenda. That issue is an article of faith for Democrats, and I’m sure they want to put Republicans on the record on that to use it politically,” he said.
Democratic leaders haven’t yet said whether they will take another run at trying to reform the Senate’s filibuster rule, something they tried and failed to do in January in an effort to pass voting rights legislation.
Democrats reacted angrily to the leaked opinion, slamming it for disregarding 50 years of precedent.
Schumer on Tuesday said if Alito’s opinion is supported by a majority of justices, it “will go down as an abomination” and “one of the worst decisions in modern history.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, warned a decision to overturn Roe v. Wade would fuel perceptions that the high court has become increasingly politicized.
“If this is the direction in which this Supreme Court is headed, it would do irreparable damage to whatever remaining trust Americans have in our judiciary as an independent, apolitical branch of our government,” he said.
Durbin on Tuesday pointed to McConnell as the master architect of the court’s solid conservative majority.
“Sen. McConnell’s goal has been so clear. That he would leave a vacancy on the Supreme Court for over ten months while he waits for the presidential election tells the whole story,” he said, referring to McConnell refusal to give then-President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, a hearing or vote in 2016 after Scalia’s death. “He was doing his best to organize a court which would rule on his side on political issues.”
—Updated at 12:21 p.m.
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