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A bill that Democrats led to guarantee abortion rights nationwide failed to advance in the Senate on Wednesday, opening a new path that the ruling party plans to seize as it seeks votes ahead of the November midterms.
In a vote presided over by Vice President Kamala Harris, the bill known as the Women’s Health Protection Act got 49-51 after Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (WV) joined Republicans in opposing it.
At the end of the vote, Harris reproached the result and labeled the Republican leaders as “extremists.” The vice president seized on the bill’s failure in an attempt to attract pro-abortion votes to the Democratic Party in the November elections.
The vote “makes clear that a priority for all who care about this issue — a priority should be to elect pro-choice leaders at the local, the state, and the federal level,” Harris told reporters. “Because what we are seeing around this country are extremist Republican leaders who are seeking to criminalize and punish women for making decisions about their own body.”
The legislation went beyond abortion
For his part, President Biden issued a statement moments after the outcome of the vote was known, in which he accused the Supreme Court of putting the “fundamental rights” of Americans “at risk.”
“This failure to act comes at a time when women’s constitutional rights are under unprecedented attack – and it runs counter to the will of the majority of American people,” Biden said. “Republicans in Congress – not one of whom voted for this bill – have chosen to stand in the way of Americans’ rights to make the most personal decisions about their own bodies, families and lives.”
The president was more direct than Harris in taking on the bill’s defeat as an electoral opportunity. “To protect the right to choose, voters need to elect more pro-choice senators this November, and return a pro-choice majority to the House,” he said. ” If they do, Congress can pass this bill in January, and put it on my desk, so I can sign it into law.”
Senate Democratic leader Rep. Chuck Schumer of New York proposed to “urgently” expedite a vote on the bill after a leaked Supreme Court opinion indicated that the 1973 ruling known as Roe v. Wade, which has since guaranteed abortion rights, will be overturned.
Schumer said the decision to reverse Roe v. Wade was an “abomination” that marked a “dark and disturbing” era for Americans. He also commented that the Supreme Court would “inflict the greatest restriction of rights in the past 50 years.”
Manchin, a pro-life Democrat, refused to vote for the legislation because he felt it went beyond the codification of Roe v. Wade and sought to eliminate all state regulations on the issue, including abortion time limits set in states such as Texas and Florida.
“Make no mistake, it is not Roe v. Wade codification,” Manchin said earlier. “It is an expansion. It wipes 500 state laws off the books. It expands abortion.”
On the other hand, the two pro-abortion Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, also rejected the legislation for the same reason as Manchin: it would have undermined state limits on abortion.