By Gabriella Borter and Moira Warburton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A bill to protect the right to have an abortion in the United States is likely to fail when it faces a procedural vote in the Senate on Monday.
But with the future of abortion access in the country in doubt, Democratic leaders are facing pressure from abortion rights advocates to hold a vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act anyway.
Reproductive rights advocates see federal legislation as possibly the best chance to codify the right to terminate pregnancy in the United States, particularly after the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative justices signaled they could soon overhaul constitutional protections.
Abortion opponents characterize the act as radical and say it would nullify state laws that have been passed to restrict abortions.
The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill last fall, and President Joe Biden supports it. It has little chance of becoming law, however, as it would need several Republicans’ support in the Senate to reach the necessary 60-vote threshold.
Abortion is poised to be a key campaign issue for members of Congress running for re-election in 2022.
Jeanne Mancini, president of national anti-abortion group March for Life, criticized the bill as “the most radical abortion bill in United States history.”
Nancy Northup, the CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said holding the Senate vote on the bill itself will be a win for abortion rights advocates, even if the bill does not necessarily pass this session.
“I think it’s going to be very important that the senators are on the record,” she said in a telephone interview. “The voters can judge them on that record when they make their decisions at the polls.”
The right to have an abortion prior to fetal viability, typically around 23 or 24 weeks, has been protected under the Constitution since the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade.
In December, the Supreme Court signaled its willingness to undermine Roe v. Wade and permit a Mississippi ban on abortion after 15 weeks. The court’s decision in that case is expected in late spring.
Some 26 states would move to immediately ban abortion if Roe is overturned, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights advocacy research group.
The Women’s Health Protection Act, co-sponsored by 48 Senate Democrats, states that healthcare providers should be able to provide abortions without a number of barriers – including restrictions on abortions prior to fetal viability, which many states currently have in place. It states that the U.S. Attorney General can sue any state or government official who violates the terms of the law.
Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican who has said she would support codifying some abortion protections, told the Los Angeles Times in September that she would not support the bill as written because she thought parts of it were “extreme,” and it went too far undermining “conscious exceptions” to abortion rights in current law.
Spokespeople for Senators Joe Manchin, a Democrat who has not signaled support for the bill, and Lisa Murkowski, a Republican who supports limited abortion rights, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In a September statement, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Senate Democrats called the bill “critical legislation” in the face of “unprecedented and unconscionable Republican attacks on reproductive rights across the country.”
(Reporting by Gabriella Borter and Moira Warburton; Editing by Aurora Ellis)