Republicans and Joe Manchin block Senate bill to secure abortion rights

A bill to enshrine the right to abortion in federal law was blocked by Senate Republicans on Monday. Although Democrats expected the bill to fail, they brought the measure forward at a perilous moment for abortion rights, to ensure votes were recorded.

The supreme court is expected in June to decide a Mississippi case which could severely curtail or gut abortion rights nationally.

On Monday, Democrats were 14 votes shy of the 60 needed to bring the bill to the floor for debate. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, was the only Democrat to join Republicans.

“Abortion is a fundamental right and women’s decisions over women’s healthcare belong to women, not to extremist rightwing legislators,” the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, told reporters.

“Every American deserves to know where their senator stands on an issue as important as the right to choose.”

In 1973, the supreme court invalidated dozens of state abortion bans in its landmark Roe v Wade ruling, which found a constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy. Since then, Roe has protected women’s right to abort a pregnancy to the point a fetus can survive outside the womb, generally regarded as 22 to 24 weeks gestation.

The bill brought before the Senate on Monday, the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA), would codify the rights provided by Roe in federal law. Last September, it was passed by the Democrat-controlled House.

“Tonight we voted in the Senate to say that Roe v Wade is the law of the land,” said Patty Murray of Washington state, a lead sponsor of the bill, after it failed.

“Democrats stood up and said women should make their own healthcare decisions. We trust women. We trust patients. We trust their doctors.”

In oral arguments in the Mississippi case, justices showed an interest in undermining or overturning Roe. If the conservative majority were to reverse Roe, abortion would effectively become a state issue. In that scenario, 26 states are expected to ban abortion immediately or as quickly as possible.

The 6-3 conservative court has already permitted severe restrictions in Texas, which it allowed to enact a ban at six weeks, before most women know they are pregnant.

The WHPA would codify a right American women have had for generations and block medically unnecessary restrictions. That would undo hundreds of laws passed by right-leaning states that have sought to make abortion more expensive and difficult to obtain, often without any medical benefit to women.

Steve Daines, a Montana Republican, called the WHPA “extreme”, adding: “It’s an egregious violation of the most fundamental of all human rights, and that is the right to life.”

Young women, poor women and women of color disproportionately seek abortion. Abortion bans would fall heavily on such populations, forcing millions to travel hundreds of miles to seek abortion and leaving others with few options except clandestine providers or unwanted pregnancy.

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