The Senate bill, which would have codified the 50-year-old court ruling as federal law among other guarantees to access, was doomed to fail. Republicans were united against giving Democrats any support, while Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said he would also not vote for the House-approved bill.
The bill needed 60 votes to pass an automatic filibuster, but the final tally came to 49 in favour and 51 against in the evenly divided Senate. Vice President Kamala Harris, who was presiding over the vote as Senate president, audibly sighed in disappointment as she announced the motion had failed.
President Joe Biden called on the Congress controlled by Democrats to pass legislation to protect abortion services for millions of Americans. But Republicans were determined to stop the effort, as the party appears poised to achieve a mission it has worked on for decades: ending Roe v. Wade by installing conservative justices to the Supreme Court.
Biden said in a statement after the vote that senators had “chosen to stand in the way of Americans’ rights to make the most personal decisions about their own bodies, families and lives.”
He called on voters to elect more pro-choice lawmakers in November’s midterm elections, which would allow the bill to be reintroduced and passed in January.
“While it did not pass today, my Administration will not stop fighting to protect access to women’s reproductive care,” he said.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer intended the vote to serve as a public record for where senators stood on the issue.
“The American people are watching,” he said ahead of the vote. “The public will not forget which side of the vote senators fall on today.”
The vote was given new urgency by Democrats after the disclosure of a draft Supreme Court opinion by the conservative majority to overturn the Roe decision that many had believed to be settled law.
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The outcome of the court’s actual ruling, expected this summer, is sure to reverberate around the country and on the campaign trail ahead of the fall midterm elections that will determine which party controls Congress.
Thirteen states have passed so-called “trigger laws” that would ban abortions almost immediately after the court hands down its final decision. Six more states have abortion ban laws on the books that predate Roe, and would likely also come into effect once the court rules.
Only ones of those states, Michigan, is actively working to strike down their older law.
Some Republicans argued that bill, dubbed the Women’s Health Protection Act, is more extreme than Roe and would expand abortion access beyond what is already the law in the U.S. and other leading countries around the world.
Republican Sen. John Cornyn called the legislation “a radical abortion-on-demand bill” that “essentially makes abortion available on demand from the time of conception to the time of delivery.”
Manchin, a moderate Democratic senator from West Virginia who has opposed his party on other major legislative issues, echoed some of those arguments ahead of the vote while insisting he had no problem codifying Roe as written.
Before the vote, more than two dozen House Democrats, mainly women, marched from the House of Representatives to the Senate chanting “My body, my decision.” They then entered the Senate chamber and sat quietly along a back wall while senators debated abortion rights.
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One by one, Democratic senators have stood on the Senate floor delivering speeches contending that undoing abortion access would mean great harm, not only for women but for all Americans planning families and futures.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., said that most American women have only known a world where abortion access was guaranteed but could face a future with fewer rights than their mothers or grandmothers.
“That means women will not have the same control over their lives and bodies as men do, and that’s wrong,” she said in the run-up to Wednesday’s vote.
Few Republican senators have spoken out in favour of ending abortion access, instead focusing on the unprecedented leak of the draft ruling from within the Supreme Court. An investigation is currently underway into who leaked the document to Politico.
—With files from the Associated Press and Reuters
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