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Democrats block 20-week abortion ban

Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked a Republican bill that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. 

The measure failed to advance in a 54-42 vote, falling short of the 60-vote threshold needed.

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Democratic Sens. Robert CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyScranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Grassley tests positive for coronavirus Casey says he isn't thinking about Pennsylvania gubernatorial bid in 2022 MORE, Jr. (Pa.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyBiden and Schumer face battles with left if Democrats win big Harris walks fine line on Barrett as election nears The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by JobsOhio - Showdown: Trump-Biden debate likely to be nasty MORE (Ind.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinMajor unions back Fudge for Agriculture secretary Voters split on eliminating the filibuster: poll OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight MORE (W.Va.), who all oppose abortion rights, joined Republicans in voting to advance the bill. Republican Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTwo more parting shots from Trump aimed squarely at disabled workers Trump transition order follows chorus of GOP criticism The Memo: Trump election loss roils right MORE (Maine) and Mark KirkMark Steven KirkSenate majority battle snags Biden Cabinet hopefuls The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Senate makes SCOTUS nominee Barrett a proxy for divisive 2020 Senate Republicans scramble to put Trump at arm's length MORE (Ill.), who support abortion rights, voted against it.

The vote comes amid a roiling debate over Planned Parenthood funding that could lead to a government shutdown on Oct. 1. 

Republican leaders are hoping the vote on the 20-week abortion ban, which comes the same day that Pope Francis arrives in Washington, will help give members a chance to register their anti-abortion views without running the risk of a government shutdown.

The measure would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at risk. The ban after 20 weeks is based on the idea that a fetus can feel pain at that point in its development, something that remains a matter of fierce debate.

Republicans also pointed out that only seven countries in the world allow abortions after 20 weeks.

“It’s legislation that would allow America to join the ranks of most civilized nations when it comes to protecting the most innocent and vulnerable of life,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHarris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight MORE (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor.  

Opposing the bill, Planned Parenthood argued that abortions after 20 weeks are extremely rare, but are sometimes necessary for medical reasons, like if the baby has a lethal disease that would cause them to die shortly after birth.

“Passing this law would put women in unimaginable situations — needing to end a pregnancy for serious medical reasons, but unable to do so,” said Planned Parenthood Executive Vice President Dawn Laguens.   

Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidFeinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight Whitehouse says Democratic caucus will decide future of Judiciary Committee Bottom line MORE (Nev.), meanwhile, accused McConnell of “pandering to the extremists in his party” while the clock ticks toward a shutdown.  

“Instead of coming to grips with the reality of the situation, and working with Democrats to avoid a government shutdown, the Republicans seem more interested in political theater,” Reid said.

The 20-week bill has already passed the House.

Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerPrinciples to unify America Feehery: A possible House Speaker conundrum for Democrats Obama on bipartisanship: 'There is a way to reach out and not be a sap' MORE (R-Ohio) assailed Senate Democrats for blocking the bill, calling their stance “indefensible.”

“Science and medical research has shown that by 20 weeks in the womb — five months of pregnancy — unborn babies are capable of feeling pain. It is morally wrong to inflict pain on an innocent human being, but that’s exactly what Senate Democrats and President Obama are supporting by opposing this humane bill,” BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerPrinciples to unify America Feehery: A possible House Speaker conundrum for Democrats Obama on bipartisanship: 'There is a way to reach out and not be a sap' MORE said in a statement.

If the ban were ever signed into law, it would almost certainly face a court challenge. Federal courts have in the past struck down some state 20-week laws as violating Supreme Court precedent protecting abortions up to the point of viability, generally considered to be around 24 weeks. Some state bans remain in place.

As for the way forward to avert a shutdown, Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynCornyn says election outcome 'becoming increasingly clear': report Top GOP senator: Biden should be getting intel briefings GOP senator congratulates Biden, says Trump should accept results MORE (R-Texas) has indicated that the Senate will later vote on a spending bill that defunds Planned Parenthood.  

That measure would certainly be blocked by Senate Democrats, after which the Senate would move to vote on a “clean” continuing resolution that does not defund the organization.

No plans are finalized, however, and it remains unclear if House Republicans will accept a “clean” funding bill.

— This story was updated at 1:10 p.m.