POLITICS

Democrats push abortion vote after leaked SCOTUS draft threatens Roe

Even though they don't have the votes to codify Roe into law, Senate Democrats want to get Republicans on record leading up to the crucial midterm elections.

  • The Senate will vote this week on an abortion bill
  • A House Republican is pushing his anti-abortion bill
  • Senate GOP leadership avoided questions about what steps the caucus may take to pass legislation
  • Moderate Republicans believe they can attract centrist Democrats to their Roe protection legislation

WASHINGTON – Democrats and Republicans reset their legislative agendas this week after a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion signaled what could be the end to legal abortion across much of the U.S.

Both parties expressed outrage – but for very different reasons.

Senate Democrats are pushing a bill that would make Roe v. Wade the law of the land. Even though they don't have the votes for passage, the larger goal is to get senators on record leading up to the crucial midterm elections, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday. 

"Every American is going to see on which side every senator stands," he said. 

Republicans, meanwhile, are directing their fury at the leak itself. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. R-Ky., said the "shocking, shocking breach" should be "investigated and punished to the fullest extent possible."

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With national polls consistently showing most Americans backing some form of abortion rights, McConnell and other Republicans deflected questions about the impact of overturning a legal precedent of nearly 50 years. Instead, they want the focus on who took the unprecedented and stunning step of sharing the draft opinion with Politico reporters.

Republicans also spent time Tuesday trying to pivot to the economy and inflation – issues that have help them in polls – when asked about Roe. Democrats now have an issue they believe is powerful for their election chances, and plan to make abortion rights a key issue of their legislative agenda moving forward.

Democrats plan a vote to codify Roe into law

Senate Democrats painted the leaked decision as a done deal, and promised to bring a vote on abortion to the Senate floor shortly. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he would hold a vote in the Senate that would make Roe permanent. 

“It's our intention in the Senate to hold the vote on legislation to codify the right to abortion in law very soon, Schumer said Tuesday. He told reporters the legislation will be introduced this week. 

Leslie Castle, right, holds a sign and gathers with activists to rally for abortion right in front of the Bruce R. Thompson courthouse in Reno, Nevada. on May 3, 2022.

But with a 50-member caucus, Democrats are unlikely to pass such legislation because it would require 60 votes. Not even all Democrats have signaled they are on board with the decision, and a similar effort in February failed in the Senate. 

Democrats argue, however, that the leaked Supreme Court decision now makes the legislation more probable to pass. 

“I do think things changed last night,” Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., told USA TODAY. “The threat on reproductive rights is not academic, it’s not theoretical, it’s imminent. And we need to act with that sense of urgency.”  

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., meets with reporters following a Democratic Caucus meeting, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, April 5, 2022.

Likewise, said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., “this has been something we’ve talked about theoretically a long time, but its not been real 'til this moment.” 

Failure or not, Schumer described the vote as a way to put senators on the record about their view on abortion access. 

"Which side are they on? Women’s health, women’s rights, a mainstream America that protects liberty, or on the side of darkness, retrograde history," Schumer said. 

Republicans call SCOTUS draft opinion a victory, but focus on the leak

Chief Justice John Roberts said that the court had launched an investigation into the origins of the leak and cautioned that the draft was not necessarily the final word on the the court's decision expected next month.

"To the extent this betrayal of the confidences of the court was intended to undermine the integrity of our operations, it will not succeed," Roberts said in the statement. "The work of the court will not be affected in any way."

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, center, and Justice Stephen Breyer arrive for the State of the Union address by President Joe Biden at the U.S. Capitol on March 1.

Though McConnell tried to keep the focus on the leak and the independence of the Supreme Court, many in his party were cheering the draft opinion as a victory for conservatives. 

McConnell worked for years to secure a conservative majority on the court and denied former President Barack Obama a Supreme Court nominee in 2016, saying the vacancy left by late Justice Antonin Scalia's death in February that year was too close to an election. It was about 9 months away.

When asked Tuesday whether he takes credit for the events leading up to the draft opinion to overturn Roe, McConnell deflected.

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"I think the story today is an effort by someone on the inside to discredit the institution," he said. 

But others in his caucus have been applauding the decision. 

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called it a "massive victory" late Monday night that will "save the lives of millions of innocent babies."

Thousands gather for a rally in Foley Square in Lower Manhattan on May 3 after a leaked draft document indicated that the Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade.

By Tuesday afternoon, Cruz was echoing McConnell and focusing on the leak and the person who leaked it as an "immoral and unethical individual."

Republicans have been laying the groundwork in anticipation of the SCOTUS conservative majority overturning Roe and capturing Congress in the midterms.

Hours before the draft Supreme Court decision leaked, one congressional Republican was pushing his anti-abortion legislation. 

The prospect that Roe could end had Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., pushing his Heartbeat Protection Act. The bill won't see a vote in the Democrat-led House, but he's galvanizing support for the measure in case Republicans take the House after the midterms.

'Wake-up call':Leaked abortion opinion by Supreme Court adds more fuel to already raging fire of debate over Roe v. Wade

"A heartbeat equals life," he said in a tweet. "I'm not willing to compromise that."

The bill, which is similar to what passed in Texas last year, would make abortion illegal once a heartbeat is detected. That is typically around 6 weeks into gestation and before many women know they are pregnant. 

"Let there be no mistake: Republicans are the party of life," Kelly said. 

Republican legislative options

Senate GOP leadership avoided questions about what steps the caucus may take to pass national abortion legislation.  

"All of this puts the cart before the horse," McConnell said Tuesday.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2022.

On Monday, the Washington Post reported that Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst will introduce legislation that would ban abortion after six weeks nationally. 

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Other members of the caucus feel the matter should be left to the states once Roe is overturned. 

“It means that every state will decide if abortion is legal and on what terms," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in a statement. "That, in my view, is the most constitutionally sound way of dealing with this issue and the way the United States handled the issue until 1973.”

"I support a decision to return the decision of abortion to states," Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, told reporters Tuesday. 

A small number of Senate Republicans, however, hope to enshrine some of the abortion rights guaranteed in Roe into law. 

In February, GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska introduced the Reproductive Choice Act, which would enact Roe's protections into law. The two Republican women argued Tuesday that their bill is less expansive than the legislation Schumer is expected to introduce, and more likely to pass. 

Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins says she'll vote to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, giving Democrats at least one GOP vote and all but assuring Jackson will become the first Black woman on the Supreme Court. (March 30)

"The deal that Lisa Murkowski and I introduced, it would in my judgment have broader support and it is much more tailored," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told reporters Tuesday. 

Collins said she believes Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania  – Democrats that are more centrist on abortion rights – would support their legislation. But even with some Democrats on board with the GOP led bill, the legislation faces an uphill battle to reach the 60-vote threshold needed for passage.