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US Democrats throw down gauntlet with symbolic abortion vote

By Frankie TAGGART
The US Supreme Court, seen through a banner advocating abortion rights. ©AFP

Washington (AFP) - Democrats in the US Senate were due to lead a vote Wednesday to codify the right to abortion into federal law in a bid to pin down Republicans on the deeply divisive issue ahead of crucial midterm elections, even though they expect the measure to fail.

The move comes amid a political firestorm ignited by a leaked draft opinion that showed the Supreme Court's conservative majority prepared to overturn Roe v. Wade, a landmark 1973 ruling guaranteeing abortion access nationwide.

Chuck Schumer, the leader of the Senate's Democratic majority, told colleagues the vote would be "one of the most consequential" in decades, describing the draft opinion as "one of the worst court decisions ever."

"Before the day is over, every member of this body will make a choice: vote to protect the fundamental rights of women across the country, or stand with five conservative justices ready to destroy these rights in one fell swoop," he said.

The House-passed Women's Health Protection Act would create a federal statute assuring health care providers have the right to provide abortions and patients have the right to receive them.

But the 60 votes needed to advance the debate towards a final yes or no vote in the evenly-divided, 100-member Senate are not there.

Even if they were, the Democrats don't have the 51 votes required to pass the legislation since Democrat Joe Manchin is opposed to abortion rights, and told reporters in Congress Wednesday he would be voting no.

The only two Republican supporters of abortion rights -- senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska -- opposed a near-identical earlier version along with Manchin.

The move is seen as significant, however, with abortion rights set to be a hot button issue for November's midterm elections, when control of both the House and Senate will be at stake.

A new Politico/Morning Consult poll has 53 percent of voters saying Roe should not be overturned, up three percentage points since last week, while 58 percent said it was important to vote for a candidate who supports abortion access.

"Generally, the people who vote and turn out based on abortion policy are those who support more restrictions on abortion rights," said Shana Gadarian, professor of political science at Syracuse University.

"By striking down Roe, this is likely to create a new constituency of pro-choice voters who are activated to turn out and donate in ways that they would not normally in a midterm election." 

Day of action

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has suggested a federal abortion ban is "possible" if Roe is overturned. 

He later rowed back slightly, telling reporters that no abortion vote in the Senate had ever achieved the 60-vote threshold.

But Democrats seized on the initial remark, arguing that highlighting their disagreement with Republicans could help them in the midterms, with the majority of Americans supporting abortion rights.

"If we are not successful, then we go to the ballot box," Senator Amy Klobuchar told ABC on Sunday.

"We march straight to the ballot box, and the women of this country and the men who stand with them will vote like they've never voted before."

Meanwhile, activism around the issue is becoming increasingly acrimonious, with angry protesters in favor of abortion rights gathering at the homes of Supreme Court justices in Washington. 

Multiple organizations that support abortion rights have called for a "massive day of action" on Saturday, with marches in New York, Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles, as well as hundreds of smaller events nationwide.

Police in the nation's capital, still on edge after Congress was attacked by a mob of former president Donald Trump's supporters in 2021, have set up temporary fencing around the court.

The leaked opinion is also spawning renewed calls by Democrats and progressives to add justices to the court, fueled by the possibility that the justices will not stop with Roe v. Wade and could overturn other landmark decisions. 

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Dive Deeper:
US Republicans block contentious Senate abortion rights vote
Washington (AFP) - A Democratic drive to make the right to abortion the law of the land failed in the…
Senate bid to ensure US abortion rights nationwide fails
Republicans block legislation proposed by Democrats that seeks to ensure access to abortion in all 50 states.
Democrats’ effort to secure US abortion access in law blocked by Republicans
The Senate has fallen far short in a rushed effort to enshrine abortion access as federal law, blocked by a…
Democrats' bill would make Roe v. Wade law, and expand it
Abortion legislation facing a Senate test vote would enshrine into federal law the landmark 1973 Roe v
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Political reality: Congress can't save -- or end -- abortion
Fighting for decades over abortion policy, Congress is about to run into the political limits of its ability to act…
Mitch McConnell says Senate Republicans couldn’t pass abortion ban
Republican leader says ‘I think it’s safe to say there aren’t 60 votes’ to pass ban should Republicans take control…
Get all your news in one place