An expansive abortion bill that would declare abortion a human right, undercut existing state pro-life laws, and force objecting doctors to perform abortions, again failed to pass the U.S. Senate on Wednesday.
The Women’s Health Protection Act failed 49-51 by a largely party line vote, with U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., voting against the bill. An almost identical version of the bill failed in a February vote by an identical margin.
While leading Catholic bishops called on Congress to stop pushing abortion, President Joe Biden called on voters to support candidates in favor of abortion rights in upcoming Senate races and pledged to sign the bill into law.
Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, the chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chair of the bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty, said May 11: “More than 60 million unborn children have already lost their lives to abortion, and countless women suffer from the physical and emotional trauma of abortion. This radical bill would add millions more to that tragic toll.”
They said the proposed legislation was “an utterly unjust and extreme measure that would impose abortion on demand nationwide at any stage of pregnancy through federal statute.”
“We are relieved that the Senate vote to advance this bill failed for the second time in less than three months,” Lori and Dolan said.
While backers claimed the bill would have simply codified current Supreme Court abortion precedent, it in fact it would go far beyond and threaten existing laws which limit abortion.
Lori and Dolan’s response emphasized these details.
“This bill insists that elective abortion, including late-term elective abortion, is a ‘human right’ and ‘women’s health care’ -- something that should be promoted, funded, and celebrated,” they said. “S. 4132 is far more extreme than Roe v. Wade.”
“It would invalidate widely supported laws that protect women and unborn children from an unscrupulous abortion industry, would force all Americans to support abortion here and abroad with their tax dollars, and seeks to force religious hospitals and health care professionals to perform abortions against their beliefs,” said Lori and Dolan.
The bill would also have forced insurers and employers to cover for or pay for abortion.
U.S. President Joe Biden, a professed Catholic who was once publicly critical of legal abortion, blamed Senate Republicans for blocking the bill. His statement said that “fundamental rights are at risk at the Supreme Court.”
“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,” he said.
While surveys indicate that many Americans support the Roe v. Wade decision, they simultaneously support limits on abortion that are not currently allowed. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to vote to return the abortion debate to the states this June.
“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,” Biden said. “If they do, Congress can pass this bill in January, and put it on my desk, so I can sign it into law.”
Thirteen Catholic Senators, including Sen. Bob Casey, Jr., D-Penn., voted in favor of the bill.
Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, said the legislation was “extreme” and “goes further than Roe.”
“I am confounded as to why the Democratic Party is pushing a bill that will allow an industry to avoid any governmental oversight and operate freely without health and safety protocols,” said Day, whose organization also emphasizes the need for government support for pregnant women and mothers.
“(Senate Majority Leader) Schumer wanted to put Senators on record and he may not like the outcome this fall,” Day said. “A vote against abortion extremism will bring voters to the polls--particularly in the states like Ohio, Georgia, and Arizona that are toss-ups.”
Though Manchin voted against the bill, he also made statements indicating he is in favor of codifying Roe.
“I’ve just thought this legislation we’ve had for 50 years… It’s precedent and law,” he said, according to CNN correspondent Manu Raju. Manchin nonetheless rejected the Women’s Health Act as an “expansion,” not a “codification” of Roe v. Wade.
The proposal was Democrats’ response to a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that suggests justices will overturn Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide in 1973, and related precedents.
The Senate vote drew criticism from Republicans.
“Americans overwhelmingly support commonsense pro-life protections and limits on abortion, but Democrats are doubling down on taxpayer-funded, unlimited abortion on demand up to the moment of birth,” said Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.
The non-partisan Susan B. Anthony List announced an ad buy to emphasize what the group said is an unpopular position.
“Pro-abortion Democrats are dramatically out of touch with the American people, who overwhelmingly reject abortion on demand until birth,” Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser said, adding, “Radical pro-abortion lawmakers who shamefully advocate a ‘right’ to abortion at any time for any reason will see the consequences of their extremism at the ballot box this fall.”
While direct abortion is strongly rejected in Catholic teaching, Lori and Dolan emphasized that legal abortion is also contrary to Americans’ understanding of God-given rights.
“As a nation built on the recognition that every human being is endowed by its Creator with the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we implore Congress to stop pushing abortion as a solution to the needs of women and young girls, and instead embrace public policy that fully respects and facilitates these rights and the needs of both mother and child,” the bishops said.