Rally at the Supreme Court for reproductive rights
The scene at the Court after the decision on Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt Texas reproductive rights case (Photo: Adam Fagen, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

Fed­er­al leg­is­la­tion that would cod­i­fy repro­duc­tive rights into law has once again failed to advance in the Unit­ed States Sen­ate, with right wing Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­tor Joe Manchin of West Vir­ginia join­ing every Repub­li­can in oppos­ing it.

H.R. 3755, the Wom­en’s Health Pro­tec­tion Act of 2021, pro­hibits gov­ern­men­tal restric­tions on the pro­vi­sion of, and access to, abor­tion ser­vices, includ­ing med­ica­tion abor­tion. It is spon­sored by Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Judy Chu of Cal­i­for­nia and was pre­vi­ous­ly passed by the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives last September.

With six sen­a­tors miss­ing, the final vote was 46 yeas to 48 nays.

Even if the bill had not been sub­ject­ed to a fil­i­buster and even if all sen­a­tors had been present, the bill still would have failed due to Joe Manch­in’s defec­tion and Susan Collins’ refusal to sup­port it. (Collins claims to be for repro­duc­tive rights, but as tonight’s vote demon­strat­ed, that’s not true in practice.)

White House Press Sec­re­tary Jen Psa­ki lament­ed the unsuc­cess­ful vote.

“At a time when women’s access to repro­duc­tive health care is under increased assault in states across the coun­try, it is extreme­ly dis­ap­point­ing that Sen­ate Repub­li­cans blocked pas­sage of the Women’s Health Pro­tec­tion Act, which would strength­en health care access and cod­i­fy con­sti­tu­tion­al rights affirmed half a cen­tu­ry ago by Roe v. Wade and in sub­se­quent Supreme Court precedent.”

“Today, we mark six months since Texas law SB8 went into effect, brazen­ly vio­lat­ing Tex­ans’ con­sti­tu­tion­al rights and empow­er­ing pri­vate cit­i­zens to act as boun­ty hunters against their neigh­bors,” Psa­ki observed.

“Now, a num­ber of oth­er states are also con­sid­er­ing pass­ing laws in open defi­ance of the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion, threat­en­ing the repro­duc­tive free­dom of all Amer­i­cans. These restric­tions are par­tic­u­lar­ly dev­as­tat­ing for com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, rur­al Amer­i­cans, and all those faced with few­er options and few­er resources.”

“As dan­ger­ous new laws pro­lif­er­ate in states across the coun­try, the Biden-Har­ris Admin­is­tra­tion will con­tin­ue to explore the mea­sures and tools at our dis­pos­al to stand up for women’s equal­i­ty. This is a moment for us to recom­mit to strength­en­ing access to women’s health care, defend the con­sti­tu­tion­al right affirmed by Roe, and pro­tect the free­dom of all peo­ple to build their own future.”

“Tonight, we vot­ed in the Sen­ate to say that Roe v. Wade is the law of the land,” said Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Mur­ray, D‑Washington. “Democ­rats stood up and said women should make their own health care deci­sions. We trust women. We trust patients. We trust their doc­tors. We trust them to make their own decisions.”

“We didn’t get the result we want­ed, but that doesn’t mean we have stopped fight­ing. We’re going to keep fight­ing to make sure that we pro­tect women’s rights in this coun­try. I know we’re all dis­ap­point­ed tonight but tonight is not the night to stand down. Tonight’s the night to stand up and keep fight­ing — not just for our­selves but for future generations.”

“We can­not go back in this coun­try to a place where women’s health is at risk, where Roe is not the law of the land, where we have a time when women will get abor­tions and they will be at risk because it will be in an unsafe place. We are going to stand up and fight for them, and we ask you to join us too.”

“By fail­ing to pass the Women’s Health Pro­tec­tion Act, the Sen­ate has decid­ed that the gov­ern­ment should come between a woman and her doc­tor,” said Sen­a­tor Ron Wyden, D‑Oregon. “Roe v. Wade was decid­ed almost fifty years ago, and yet in too many states, repro­duc­tive free­dom is under attack.”

“Today the Sen­ate had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to cement the right to an abor­tion into in fed­er­al law so that every Amer­i­can can access an essen­tial ser­vice to con­trol their bod­ies and their futures. I will keep fight­ing for access to safe, legal abor­tion, which is a crit­i­cal part of healthcare.”

All of the Pacif­ic North­west­’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic sen­a­tors vot­ed yea on the bill, and all of the Repub­li­cans vot­ed nay. As men­tioned, Joe Manchin of West Vir­ginia was the only sen­a­tor who did­n’t vote along par­ty lines. Here’s the abbre­vi­at­ed roll call:

Vot­ing Yea (Pacif­ic North­west): Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­tors Pat­ty Mur­ray and Maria Cantwell (WA), Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley (OR), Jon Tester (MT)

Vot­ing Nay (Pacif­ic North­west): Repub­li­can Sen­a­tors Mike Crapo and Jim Risch (ID), Steve Daines (MT), Lisa Murkows­ki and Dan Sul­li­van (AK)

Also Nay, Cross­ing Par­ty Lines: Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­tor Joe Manchin (WV)

Not Vot­ing: Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­tors Ben Ray Lujan (NM), Dianne Fein­stein (CA), Raphael Warnock (GA); Repub­li­can Sen­a­tors Rand Paul (KY), John Kennedy (LA), James Inhofe (OK)

To get a dif­fer­ent out­come in the next Con­gress, Democ­rats would need to hold the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and add at least two seats in the Sen­ate to off­set Kyrsten Sine­ma and Joe Manch­in’s oppo­si­tion to reform­ing or elim­i­nat­ing the fil­i­buster. A fifty-two seat major­i­ty would give the par­ty fifty votes for rules changes, with Vice Pres­i­dent Kamala Har­ris able to break a tie.

Democ­rats have fea­si­ble pick­up oppor­tu­ni­ties in sev­er­al swing states this cycle, includ­ing Wis­con­sin and Penn­syl­va­nia, which vot­ed for the Biden/Harris tick­et in the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. The par­ty is only defend­ing four­teen seats, while Repub­li­cans are defend­ing twen­ty. None of the seats that Democ­rats are defend­ing are in states where Don­ald Trump won the pop­u­lar vote in 2020.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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