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Senate bid to save Roe v. Wade falls to GOP-led filibuster on Wednesday

by The Associated Press | May 12, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., center left, and Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., center right talking to Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., return to the House after members of the House Progressive Caucus went to the Senate chamber and shouted in protest ahead of a procedural vote on the Women's Health Protection Act to codify the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate fell far short Wednesday in a rushed effort toward enshrining Roe v. Wade abortion access as federal law, blocked by a Republican filibuster in a blunt display of the nation's partisan divide over the landmark court decision and the limits of legislative action.

The almost party-line tally promises to be just the first of several efforts in Congress to preserve the nearly 50-year-old court ruling, which declares a constitutional right to abortion services but is at serious risk of being overturned this summer by a conservative Supreme Court.

President Joe Biden said Republicans "have chosen to stand in the way of Americans' rights to make the most personal decisions about their own bodies, families and lives."

Biden urged voters to elect more abortion-rights lawmakers in November and pledged in the meantime to explore other ways to secure the rights established in Roe.

For now, his party's slim majority proved unable to overcome the filibuster led by Republicans, who have been working for decades to install conservative Supreme Court justices and end Roe v. Wade. The vote was 51-49 against proceeding, with 60 votes needed to move ahead.

Congress has battled for years over abortion policy, but the Wednesday vote to take up a House-passed bill was given new urgency after the disclosure of a draft Supreme Court opinion to overturn the Roe decision that many had believed to be settled law.

The outcome of the conservative- majority 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.

Security was tight at the Capitol where Vice President Kamala Harris presided, and it has been bolstered across the street at the Supreme Court after protesters turned out in force last week following the leaked draft.

Scores of House Democratic lawmakers marched protest-style to the Senate and briefly watched from the visitor galleries.

Harris can provide a tie-breaking vote in the 50-50 split Senate, but that was beside the point on Wednesday. One conservative Democrat, Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, voted with the Republicans, saying he supported keeping Roe v. Wade but believed the current bill was too broad.

"The Senate is not where the majority of Americans are on this issue," Harris said afterward.

Over several days, Democratic senators delivered 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 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 spoke in favor of ending abortion access, but they embraced the filibuster to block the bill from advancing.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, an architect of the effort to install conservative justices on the Supreme Court -- including three during the Trump era -- has sought to downplay the outcome of any potential changes in federal abortion policy.

"This issue will be dealt with at the state level," McConnell said.

Some other Republicans, including Sen. John Thune, of South Dakota, argue the House-passed bill is more extreme than Roe, and would expand abortion access beyond what is already the law.

About half the states already have approved laws that would further restrict or ban abortions, including some trigger laws that would take effect once the court rules.

Polls show most Americans want to preserve access to abortion in the earlier stages of pregnancy, but views are more nuanced and mixed when it comes to later-term abortions.

The draft court ruling on a case from Mississippi suggested the majority of conservative justices are prepared to end the federal right to abortion, leaving it to the states to decide.

Whatever the Supreme Court says this summer, it will almost guarantee a new phase of political fighting in Congress over abortion policy, filibuster rules and the most basic rights to health care, privacy and protecting the unborn.

In recent years, abortion debates have come to a political draw in Congress. Bills would come up for votes -- to expand or limit services -- only to fail along party lines or be stripped out of broader legislative packages.

In the House, where Democrats have the majority, lawmakers approved the abortion-rights Women's Health Protection Act last year on a largely party line vote after the Supreme Court first signaled it was considering the issue by allowing a Texas law's ban to take effect.

But the bill has languished in the Senate, evenly split with bare Democratic control because of Harris' ability to cast a tie-braking vote.

Wednesday's failure renewed calls to change Senate rules to do away with the high-bar filibuster threshold, at least on this issue.

The two Republican senators who support abortion access -- Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, who faces her own reelection in November, and Susan Collins, of Maine -- were also no votes, having proposed their own more tailored approach to counter the Supreme Court's potential action.

photo In this image from Senate TV, the tally of a Senate procedural vote that did not pass on the Senate floor is shown, Wednesday, May 11, 2022 at the Capitol in Washington. The Senate has failed vote in an effort toward enshrining Roe v. Wade abortion access into federal law. Wednesday's 51-49 negative vote almost along party lines provided a stark display of the nation’s partisan divide over the landmark court decision and the limits of legislative action. The afternoon roll call promised to be the first of several efforts in Congress to preserve the nearly 50-year-old court ruling. (Senate TV via AP)
photo Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, speaks to an aide as senators arrive before a procedural vote on the Women's Health Protection Act to codify the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. President Joe Biden called on Congress to pass legislation that would guarantee the constitutional right to abortion services after the disclosure of a draft Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
photo Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., leaves the chamber after casting a no vote against an effort by Democrats to enshrine Roe v. Wade abortion access into federal law, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. The 51-49 vote was blocked by a Republican filibuster in a blunt display of the nation's partisan divide over the landmark court decision and the limits of legislative action. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
photo Vice President Kamala Harris hugs Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, after Harris spoke to the media about a procedural vote that did not pass on the Women's Health Protection Act to codify the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide, Wednesday, May 11, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
photo Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., right, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., speak to the media about a procedural vote that did not pass on the Women's Health Protection Act to codify the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide, Wednesday, May 11, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
photo Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to the media about a procedural vote that did not pass on the Women's Health Protection Act to codify the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide, Wednesday, May 11, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
photo Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, left, speaks with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., as senators arrive before a procedural vote on the Women's Health Protection Act to codify the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. President Joe Biden called on Congress to pass legislation that would guarantee the constitutional right to abortion services after the disclosure of a draft Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Print Headline: Senate bid to save Roe v. Wade falls to GOP-led filibuster on Wednesday

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