'Sense of urgency': Senate to vote Wednesday on bill that would make abortion legal nationally

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced the Senate would vote on a pro-abortion bill Wednesday, but Democrats lack the votes necessary to pass the measure.

Dylan Wells
  • Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that the Senate will vote on the bill on Wednesday.
  • Democrats lack the votes to pass the bill, and a vote on a similar measure earlier this year failed.
  • A leaked Supreme Court opinion suggested the court will overturn Roe v. Wade.

WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats will vote Wednesday on a bill that would make Roe v. Wade the law of the land and head off a Supreme Court decision that could leave states the sole authority on whether to restrict abortion. 

The decision to move swiftly on legislation follows the leak of a draft opinion from the Supreme Court Monday that suggests the nation's highest court will overturn the landmark case that guaranteed the constitutional right to abortion. 

The bill – introduced by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., late Tuesday evening – does not have the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster in the 50-50 Senate, but it marks Democrats' first legislative attempt to enshrine the right to abortion into law since the leak. 

The Women's Health Protection Act of 2022 would make abortion legal nationally, superseding legislation passed by states to severely restrict or completely ban the procedure.  

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced Thursday that he will file cloture Monday, setting up a Wednesday vote on the bill.

Abortion rights supporters and anti-abortion activists rally May 3 in Los Angeles. A draft Supreme Court opinion published by Politico on Monday suggested the court is considering overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that established a constitutional right to abortion in 1973.

In February, the Senate held a procedural vote on an earlier version of the bill, the Women's Health Protection Act of 2021. That failed to pass, 46-48, with six senators not voting.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., joined Republicans in voting against opening debate on the bill. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., an abortion opponent, was the only other member of his caucus to not explicitly back the legislation, but he voted on the procedural motion to allow debate. 

More:How many abortions are performed in the US? Rates have declined for decades.

More:Conservatives spent decades pushing to upend Roe v. Wade. And it's 'only the beginning'

The 2022 version of the bill does not include a lengthy section of findings from the earlier legislation, which provides background information on abortion and – among other points – ties restrictions on the procedure to white supremacy and gender oppression and states that the legislation is intended to protect all people with the capacity for pregnancy.

The dynamics of the Senate have not changed since the earlier bill: Democrats still do not have the votes to overcome a filibuster and pass the bill into law. Schumer nonetheless vowed to bring a bill to the floor, saying that doing so would put every senator on the record about their position. 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., introduced a bill that would protect abortion rights.

Polls show most Americans support abortion rights, and Democrats hope the debate becomes the driving issue in the midterm elections. Such a vote would allow them to contrast themselves to Senate Republicans, most of whom are anti-abortion. 

"We are going to make every senator show where they stand by voting on the Women's Health Protection Act," Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said Thursday. 

"Republicans will not be able to hide from the American people and can not hide from their role in bringing Roe to an end," Schumer said. 

Democratic senators expressed optimism that the political environment has changed since the vote in February, given the leak of the court draft.

“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," Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., told USA TODAY.

More:If Roe v. Wade is overturned, here's how abortion laws in each state will stand

Others within the Democratic caucus hoped some Republican colleagues could be convinced to support the legislation, such as GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. 

"We already know that there are some Republicans who are pro-choice, and Sen. Collins has said she'd be willing to codify Roe v Wade into law," Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said the day after the decision was leaked. 

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee that confirms Supreme Court appointments, said in a statement that if a leaked draft opinion on abortion becomes the ruling of the court, "it would be completely inconsistent with what Justice (Neil) Gorsuch and Justice (Brett) Kavanaugh said in their hearings and in our meetings in my office."

Collins and Murkowski introduced their own abortion legislation in February, 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 what the Democrats were expected to introduce, and more likely to pass. 

"The deal that Lisa Murkowski and I introduced, it would in my judgment have broader support, and it is much more tailored," Collins said Tuesday before the new version of the Women's Health Protection Act was introduced. 

Collins said she believed Manchin and Casey would support their legislation. 

After Schumer announced the timeline for the vote, Collins told CNN she would not support the Democratic bill. She said the legislation is too broad and "doesn't protect the right of Catholic hospitals to not perform abortions." 

"Some are saying that this legislation would tell certain religious hospitals that they have to perform abortions; that is simply not true," Schumer countered Thursday. "This bill simply gives providers the statutory right to provide abortion care without medically unnecessary restrictions."

The Washington Post reported  Monday that Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, will introduce legislation that would ban abortion after six weeks nationally. The Post reported that a group of Republican senators had meetings about such a bill, citing Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., who told the Post he would support such legislation.

On Wednesday, Lankford expressed doubt that any abortion legislation would be able to pass in the evenly divided Senate. 

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., says he doubts abortion legislation could clear the Senate.

"I don't think we'll be able to move on either side on this in the Senate right now," he told USA TODAY. "I do think both sides are going to present their arguments, but I don't think we'll have the ability to be able to move either direction on it nationally.

"Democrats are already saying they're going to codify Roe, but they know they're not going to move it. It's not going to go anywhere. We could bring all kinds of other things as well. We know we're not going to win them," Lankford said.

"The first step is to have a vote in the Senate," Schumer said. "Once we have that vote, we'll look at the best way to get things done.

"This is not just one vote and then this issue goes away," he said.