Senate to vote on advancing abortion access bill amid fallout from draft Supreme Court opinion

Washington — The Senate is set to vote Wednesday afternoon on whether to advance legislation that would enshrine the right to an abortion established in Roe v. Wade into federal law, as Democrats scramble to protect abortion access nationwide after a draft Supreme Court opinion indicated the high court may overturn its near-50-year-old decision.

Democratic leaders are pressing ahead with the procedural vote even though it is almost certain to fail to garner the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster, arguing the need to bolster abortion rights at the federal level is too urgent to ignore. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced last week the Senate would vote to proceed to the bill, called the Women’s Health Protection Act, days after the draft majority opinion was leaked and published. But all 50 GOP senators are expected to vote against ending debate on the bill and at least one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, could join them. 

Manchin has not yet said what he plans to do regarding the procedural vote, but he was the sole Democrat to join Republicans in blocking the measure when it was taken up by the Senate in February. The House passed the bill along party lines in September.

Still, Schumer has said the possibility that the Supreme Court reverses its 1973 decision in Roe warrants an immediate response by the upper chamber, and he has called the vote “one of the most important” taken by the Senate in decades.

The Women’s Health Protection Act would ensure access to abortion across the country free from many restrictions and prohibit certain limits on providers. But two Republican senators who support abortion rights, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, are opposed to the measure because of its breadth.

Instead, the pair have introduced their own, more tailored legislation that would enshrine into federal law protections established under Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 Supreme Court decision that reaffirmed Roe’s central holding and said states cannot enact restrictions that impose an undue burden on a woman’s right to an abortion before fetal viability.

Asked last week why he is not considering the GOP senators’ proposal, Schumer told reporters Democrats “are not looking to compromise on something as vital as this.”

Disclosure of the draft opinion last week sent shockwaves throughout the nation, sparking protests in major cities and outside the homes of several Supreme Court justices in the Washington, D.C.,-area. The document, written by Justice Samuel Alito and confirmed by the court as authentic, was circulated among the justices in February and indicated a majority of the court had voted to overturn Roe, which legalized abortion nationwide.

While the Supreme Court said the document did not represent a decision or the final position of its members, Politico reported Wednesday that Alito’s opinion remains the court’s only circulated draft in the pending case involving a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. None of conservative justices who sided with Alito initially — Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — have changed their votes, according to Politico.

The justices are set to meet for a closed-door conference Thursday, their first since the bombshell leak, which Roberts called a “betrayal of the confidences of the court.”

If the Supreme Court strikes down its 1973 decision in Roe, at least half the states are certain or likely to curtail abortion access, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion right.

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