Senate Democrats Wednesday forced to consider measures designed to protect women’s health and reproductive freedom, using the upcoming anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade to remind voters of the Republican opposition to measures with broad voter approval.
New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the leader of the Democratic majority, tabled four bills that would protect a woman’s right to access abortion and birth control. He did this under a procedure that requires unanimous Senate consent, meaning that an objection from a single Republican legislator would result in their failure.
That was the point: to force Republicans to block what Democrats described as common sense laws that protect existing rights, and to highlight how opposition to abortion rights and related issues on a national level has become a political liability for the GOP
“As we fight to get the votes we need to restore Roe, it is imperative that we make it clear to the country how extreme and dangerous the Republicans’ anti-abortion agenda is,” said Washington Democrat Senator Patty Murray, who organized the initiative to bring the bills to the table.
Some Republicans dismissed the maneuver as nothing more than a blatantly partisan “Dobbs Message Festival,” which takes place during a busy week of committee work before Congress heads off for a two-week break. (The case that overturned the right to abortion is Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.)
But Mr Schumer said Democrats used it to “expose the Republicans’ radical, anti-choice agenda for what it is: an endless push for a nationwide abortion ban”.
“The Republicans, deep down, want to ban abortions for everyone, everywhere,” he said.
The proposed legislation that the Senate passed Wednesday afternoon included a bill that would enshrine the right to use contraception in law; a bill that would allow women to travel freely to receive abortion care; a bill to ensure that physicians can safely continue to provide legal abortion care and to protect health care providers from liability for providing services to patients from other states; and a bill to protect people’s online health data from being used against them.
The outcome seemed predetermined: Republicans blocked many of those same bills last year. And on the Senate floor on Wednesday, they railed against all four bills, arguing that introducing them only served to underline the Democrats’ “obsession” with abortion and address issues that didn’t exist.
Senator Mike Braun, a Republican from Indiana, objected to codifying birth control protections, arguing, “This bill isn’t about birth control, it’s about abortion.” He said the “ulterior motive” of the legislation was to protect access to abortion because it included a provision that would guarantee funding for Planned Parenthood.
Utah Senator Mike Lee said there was “an obsession with abortion on the left” and that a bill to allow women to travel to get abortion care “had to do with a phantom problem, a phantom law that is not consists”.
There are currently no abortion bans attempting to prosecute women who cross state lines to seek an abortion. But Nevada Democrat Senator Catherine Cortez Masto said that “constitutional rights don’t enforce themselves” and that many states are looking at laws that would.
“What we do have an obsession with is freedom,” Ms. Cortez Masto said in an impassioned response on the floor.
Mississippi Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith said protecting online health data could be a two-pronged issue. But, she said, “unilateral efforts to promote abortion is not the way to reach agreement on this issue.” And Senator Ted Budd, Republican from North Carolina, objected to protecting doctors and health care providers from liability simply because “it would make it easier to end the unborn life.”
Last year, the Senate failed to pass legislation to guarantee abortion rights nationwide because Republicans and a Democrat in the Senate blocked an attempt to enshrine the Roe v. Wade precedent in federal law.
Since Roe’s overthrow, 14 states have enacted near-total bans on abortion. Another eight states have passed abortion bans that are temporarily blocked by the courts.
But the backlash has also helped Democrats in national elections. According to recent polls, a record number of Americans say they support at least some access to abortion. Reaction to the Dobbs decision helped mitigate an expected “red wave” in last year’s midterm elections.
Yet House Republicans continue to appeal to their conservative base, which has made opposition to abortion rights a litmus test, by trying to make access to abortion even more difficult. In the second policy bill they brought to the floor after taking control of the House in January, Republicans pushed through legislation that would criminalize doctors who perform abortions.
New York Republican Representative Elise Stefanik said in a speech this week that protecting life was not an extreme position. Speaking for an anti-abortion group, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, Ms. Stefanik tried to frame Democrats and progressives as extremists.
“Pro-life advocates were beaten in the street by radicals, illegally attacked by President Biden’s FBI, and arrested at home with their children for protesting peacefully and standing for their lives,” she said. Ms. Stefanik referred to the case of Mark Houck, who was indicted by the Justice Department last year for assaulting a volunteer at a Planned Parenthood center in Philadelphia. His wife claimed that a SWAT team had come to arrest him in front of their seven children.
However, it is not clear whether that message will resonate with voters. Kansas Democrat Representative Sharice Davids won re-election last year in a district at the center of fallout from the Dobbs decision, a red state where residents voted overwhelmingly to reject an initiative that would have ended made to abortion rights in the state.
“It had a big impact on my re-election efforts,” Ms Davids said in an interview this week, referring to the Supreme Court decision a year ago. “It’s an interesting tactic for people with more extreme views on things like this to keep pushing — even when voters have shown up at the polls to say this isn’t what we want you, Congress, to do.”
On Tuesday, the Senate confirmed Julie Rikelman, an abortion lawyer, as a federal appeals judge. Ms. Rikelman represented the Mississippi abortion clinic in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.