Democrats plan votes on abortion access, but lack legislative path
WASHINGTON — Democrats in Congress, under pressure to act quickly in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning abortion rights, plan to vote this week on legislation to preserve abortion access in the post-Roe era c. Wade.
The bills are almost certain to fail in the equally divided Senate, where broad Republican opposition means they cannot muster all 60 votes to move forward. But Democrats are advancing amid a wave of pressure from progressives within their ranks who were outraged by the Supreme Court’s ruling and furious that their leaders appeared to have no plan to respond.
Immediately after last month’s ruling that overturned the nearly 50-year-old precedent that established the right to abortion, as protesters gathered outside the Supreme Court to demand action, House Democrats came together on the Capitol steps across the street, singing “God Bless America” to celebrate the passage of a gun safety bill.
The gesture was widely ridiculed by left-wing activistswho denounced the lack of a convincing response from President Biden or Congress to a decision expected for weeks.
Capitol Hill Democrats are now moving forward with a plan that aims to frame the issue for the midterm elections. Lacking votes to force action, Democrats are using the debate to show voters where they stand and portray Republicans as out of step with a majority of Americans, who polls show consistently support access to ‘abortion.
The first measure, which Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to put to a vote this week, would protect the right to travel for abortion services. A second measure, a version of which was passed by the House last year, would explicitly give health care providers the right to provide abortion services and their patients the right to obtain them, invalidating various restrictions that have were enacted following Roe.
Senate Democrats tried and failed in May to retake that legislation, the Women’s Health Protection Act. But Republicans and one Democrat – Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia – opposed it, stalling a debate and leaving the measure short of the simple majority it would need to clear Congress.
House Democrats also plan to introduce more laws in the coming weeks that would protect the confidentiality of patient health records, fearing law enforcement officials will try to use the data to track pregnancies and enforce abortion restrictions or bans.
Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, said in a letter to colleagues that leaders would consider more legislation “to respond to the Dobbs v. Jackson and protect the rights, health, and safety of Americans under a court determined to ignore precedent and eager to legislate.
On Friday, responding to pressure to respond more forcefully to the Supreme Court’s ruling, Biden also issued an executive order aimed at ensuring access to contraception and other health services for women. “A 10-year-old girl shouldn’t be forced to give birth to a rapist’s child,” Biden said, visibly angry.
Learn more about the end of Roe v. wade
On Monday, following the president’s order, the Biden administration ordered hospitals that, even in states where abortion is illegal, federal law required doctors to perform an abortion for a pregnant woman who presented to the emergency room if she believed it was the “necessary stabilization treatment” to solve an emergency medical problem.
“Under the law, wherever you live, women have the right to emergency care — including abortion care,” Xavier Becerra, Mr. Biden’s health secretary, said in a statement.
Mr. Becerra made his position known in a letter to health care providersgiving them formal guidance on their responsibilities under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, also known as EMTALA, a 1986 law that requires anyone presenting to an emergency room to be stabilized and treated, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay.
On Capitol Hill, Democrats plan to debate measures that would preserve access to abortion as much as possible.
A bill, sponsored by Representative Lizzie Fletcher, Democrat of Texas, would prohibit any state from enacting or enforcing a law restricting travel to another state to obtain an abortion.
In Texas, which prohibits abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy, about 1,400 women leave each month to seek abortion care, Ms Fletcher said. According to the organization, Planned Parenthood health centers in neighboring states have seen an almost 800% increase in the number of patients seeking abortions since Texas instituted its ban.
“We’re hearing from lawmakers in our state already talking about preventing women from leaving the state to get abortions, and it’s not just Texas,” Ms. Fletcher said in an interview. “The idea that you can’t leave the state to get reproductive health care in a state where it’s legal makes that an essential starting point.”
The Senate, however, remains the main obstacle to any legislative effort to codify Roe v. Wade in the law. All but two Republicans in the House oppose abortion rights, leaving little hope that a bill could go forward; with Mr. Manchin also opposed, passage would be virtually impossible.
Realizing this reality, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and Majority Leader, focused on confirming circuit judges, not wanting to use his remaining speaking time before the midterms on draft abortion-related laws that have no chance of being enacted. .
Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, who is a practicing Catholic, and Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat of Arizona, worked with Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the only two Republican supporters of the right abortion in the Senate, to introduce legislation that would codify the framework of Roe and related cases. But Democrats rejected an alternative proposal, arguing it was toothless and lacked clear guidance on what states could and could not do.
Seeking a way to channel the anger felt by many on the left, Senate Democrats plan to hold hearings in the coming weeks. Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, scheduled a hearing Tuesday on the legal implications of the Dobbs decision and “to explore the grim reality of a post-Roe America.” Witnesses include Dr. Colleen P. McNicholas, a Planned Parenthood abortion provider in Missouri and southern Illinois.
Senator Patty Murray, chair of the health, education, labor and pensions committee, has scheduled another hearing next week with abortion providers and doctors.
Many progressives say the round of hearings and votes comes too late.
“It is inexcusable for Democratic leaders to have known for months this was coming and to muster such an anemic, milquetoast response,” said Stephanie Taylor, founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “It’s one thing not to show up with the necessary outrage for this kind of news; it’s another to not show up with a battle plan.
Democratic lawmakers have also urged Mr. Biden to do more, including declaring a public health emergency to protect access to abortion for all Americans; directing federal agencies to increase the accessibility of medical abortion; provide travel and childcare vouchers for people seeking access to out-of-state abortion care; and using federal property to increase access to abortion.
Some lawmakers also want to focus on the Senate confirmation process for Supreme Court nominees, arguing that the Dobbs decision exposed how broken it is. Representatives Ted Lieu, Democrat of California, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, called on Mr. Schumer to formally establish a position on whether Judges Brett M. Kavanaugh and Neil M. Gorsuch lied under oath during their confirmations, misleading senators. saying that Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey were setting precedents and hinting that they would not support their invalidation.
“We must call their actions for what they were before the moment passed,” Mr. Lieu and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez wrote in the letter, “so that we can prevent such a false disparagement of our fundamental rights and the rule of law will never happen again.
Stephanie Lai and Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed reporting from Washington.