WASHINGTON (NewsNation) — Senate Democrats Wednesday failed to pass legislation, 49-51, to codify women’s rights to abortion, enshrining into federal law the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
Blocked by a Republican filibuster, the nearly straight party-line tally (Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia sided with Republicans against the bill) promises to be the first of several efforts in Congress to preserve the almost 50-year-old court ruling now under scrutiny after a draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion leaked last week suggested the court is poised to overturn it.
A decision to overturn Roe would lead to abortion bans in roughly half the states and could have huge ramifications for this year’s elections.
If the Democratic legislation had become law, it would do more than just preserve the status quo.
President Joe Biden said that Republicans “have chosen to stand in the way of Americans’ rights to make the most personal decisions about their own bodies, families and lives.”
The bill would have also expanded protections, invalidating many state laws that Democrats and abortion rights advocates say have infringed on the original 1973 ruling.
Broadly, the main objective of the legislation is to codify Roe v. Wade into federal law, meaning it would be much harder for the Supreme Court to overturn. In the five decades the ruling has been court precedent, abortion rights supporters have not been able to pass federal legislation to legalize abortion. And because the Supreme Court decided on that right, it can also take it away — however rare that move may be.
“Republicans who pretended disingenuously as if this moment couldn’t possibly happen will have to answer to the women of America whose rights are about to be turned back by decades,” Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday on the Senate floor. “Tomorrow, there will be no more hiding. There will be no more distracting, no more obfuscating where every member in this chamber stands.”
Most Senate Republicans oppose abortion and Democrats’ razor-thin majority likely will not be enough to overcome the chamber’s rules requiring 60 of the 100 members to agree to advance most legislation.
Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska support abortion rights but have opposed the Democratic legislation, saying it is too expansive and could threaten some religious liberties that states have sought to protect.
They have introduced legislation that would hew closer to what the court currently allows, more generally prohibiting states from imposing an “undue burden” on the ability of a woman to choose whether to have an abortion prior to fetal viability. It is not expected to get a vote.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell told USA Today last week it was “possible” that a Republican-controlled Senate could seek legislation restricting abortion nationwide.
However, McConnell noted Tuesday that neither side of the aisle would likely secure the 60 votes needed to move abortion legislation through the Senate.
“This issue will be dealt with at the state level,” McConnell said.
It’s important to note that the draft does not represent the Supreme Court’s final word on the matter — opinions often change in ways big and small in the drafting process.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.