Legislative battles over abortion access are heating up in the House and Senate as Democrats look to raise pressure on Republicans.
A round of bills aimed at protecting abortion access that were introduced by Democrats were considered on Capitol Hill last week, leading to the first instances of lawmakers butting heads over such legislation since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last month.
Though the bills are unlikely to pass in the evenly divided Senate, where they would require bipartisan support to overcome the legislative filibuster, Democrats are pushing for action in the aftermath of the court’s decision and seeking to get Republican members of Congress on the record objecting to legislation on the issue in an apparent attempt to paint GOP lawmakers as going to extremes to stop abortions.
Republicans have in turn accused Democrats of fear-mongering when they argue that the GOP will seek to block access to contraception and try to enact a nationwide abortion ban.
A bill that would codify protections for abortion access into federal law — the Women’s Health Protection Act — was passed by the House 219-209 almost entirely along party lines on Friday after previously being approved by the chamber in September. Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas) voted against the measure, along with all Republican members apart from two who did not vote.
Republican lawmakers lambasted the legislation as a form of government overreach during debate over it on Friday, with several members referring to it as the “abortion on demand until birth act.” Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) argued it stripped away state laws that protected women from coercion to terminate their pregnancies and claimed it would force pro-life physicians to perform abortions.
The House also on Friday passed a bill 223-205 that would protect out-of-state travel for abortion services, with three Republicans — Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) and Fred Upton (Mich.) — joining Democrats in voting for the measure.
Democratic lawmakers slammed their GOP colleagues for opposing the bill.
“It is absolutely important to get Republicans on the record to how far they will go to restrict a woman’s right,” Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) told The Hill. “Are they really saying that women should not be allowed to travel to another state to get a medical procedure?”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) communications director Henry Connelly tweeted shortly after the vote, “Genuinely very scary that 205 House Republicans just voted to enable states to arrest, fine or sue women for traveling to get an abortion *even where it is still legal.*”
GOP opposition means both bills are unlikely to pass in the evenly divided Senate, where they will need 60 votes to overcome the filibuster. The upper chamber has already failed to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act twice since September, and this week a Republican senator blocked a separate bill seeking to protect those traveling across state lines to get abortions.
Democratic senators on Tuesday unveiled legislation that would bar state legislatures from banning or restricting interstate travel to obtain abortions in states where they are still allowed. The bill was quickly brought up for a unanimous consent vote on the Senate floor just days after it was introduced, only to be blocked by Republican Sen. James Lankford (Okla.).
Lankford sought to center the debate over the bill on the life of the fetus, saying in remarks opposing the legislation, “The conversation today is not just about women. There are two people in this conversation — a child with ten fingers and ten toes and a beating heart and DNA that is uniquely different than mom’s DNA or the dad’s DNA.”
Democratic lawmakers, in contrast, looked to emphasize the rights of pregnant people.
Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) both described the bill as protecting privacy rights, with Gillibrand explicitly saying it was “not about a medical procedure,” but about privacy for pregnant people as well as their freedom to travel across state lines.
A number of Democrats, including President Biden, have called for the Senate to carve out an exception to the filibuster to codify abortion rights after Roe was overturned. Chu, the sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act, reiterated her support for eliminating the filibuster in order to pass the bill, blaming the Senate’s two Republican pro-abortion rights members — Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) — for it being stalled. A change to the filibuster would require the support of all 50 Democratic senators, however, and Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have opposed altering the rule.
As congressional Democrats seek to pass abortion protections, party leaders like Biden and Pelosi have been encouraging Americans to vote in the upcoming midterms in order to ensure abortion access.
Biden criticized the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe early this month, saying, “The court now practically dares the women of America to go to the ballot box and restore the very rights they’ve just taken away.”
The president had previously called on voters to elect more pro-choice lawmakers when the Women’s Health Protection Act failed to pass in a Senate vote earlier this year.
“We actually need to do all things,” Chu said of the multiple approaches Democrats are taking to protect abortion access. “There have been marches and demonstrations and rallies all across America on a continuous basis for these three weeks. We need to do that and we also need to point to the elections.”