Women’s Health Protection Act
An Expected Block. After a draft opinion leaked last week showing the Supreme Court is likely to overturn the Roe and Casey abortion decisions, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) promised the Senate would vote on enshrining those protections in federal law. On Wednesday, the Senate failed to advance the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA), a bill Democrats argue is necessary to codify those landmark abortion cases in federal law. Supporters and opponents alike widely expected the bill to fail, as it needed 60 votes to overcome the chamber’s filibuster threshold. Democrats acknowledged the vote was largely symbolic and hope it will propel voters to support Democratic candidates in the upcoming midterm elections.
Repeat Bill. The WHPA is nearly identical to a House bill of the same name from last year. Last September, the House passed it in an almost strictly party-line 218-211 vote (one Democrat joined all Republicans to oppose the measure). Like the Wednesday vote, the Senate failed to advance that legislation back in February when Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) joined Republicans and blocked it.
Codifying Roe. Democrats say the WHPA would codify the Roe and Casey cases, banning abortion regulations before fetal viability — generally considered around 24 weeks. They also stated the legislation would prevent states from imposing unfair restrictions (or an “undue burden”) on those seeking an abortion, prohibiting so-called TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws. Republicans, meanwhile, slammed the bill as a product of the far-left. In his floor speech, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “Democrats could not have written more extreme legislation.”
Two Key Democrats Split
Manchin and Casey. Once Schumer announced the Senate would take up the WHPA again, all eyes turned to two Democratic Senators: Joe Manchin and Bob Casey Jr. (PA). Observers generally regard Manchin and Casey — both of whom identify as “pro-life” — as the two most conservative Democratic Senators on abortion. While the bill was almost certain to fail regardless, many observers viewed the vote as a significant indicator of their stances.
Manchin Votes No — Again. In February, Manchin was the only Democratic Senator to oppose advancing the WHPA. On Wednesday, he announced he would again oppose the procedural motion. While Manchin said he would “vote for a Roe v. Wade codification if it was today,” he argued that the existing bill goes beyond that and “expands abortion.”
Family Legacy. Casey also has a mixed record on the issue. His father, Bob Casey Sr., was the Governor of Pennsylvania that signed abortion restrictions landing Planned Parenthood v. Casey at the Supreme Court. However, Casey released a statement saying that the circumstances had changed, referencing comments from Senator McConnell (R-KY) that a national abortion ban is “possible” (though McConnell has walked back those remarks). Casey said he has not and will not ever support a “categorical ban” on abortion and supported the WHPA on Wednesday.
Two Key Republicans Promote Alternative
Pro-Choice Republicans. On the Republican side, many observers focused on two Senators: Susan Collins (ME) and Lisa Murkowski (AK). Both Senators call themselves “pro-choice” and say they support codifying Roe and Casey. However, Collins and Murkowski voted against the motion to advance the WHPA, arguing that they had proposed a narrowly tailored alternative bill to enshrine abortion protections in federal law — the Reproductive Choice Act. Some pro-choice advocates claim that this version is insufficient and fails to specify what restrictions create an “undue burden” on those seeking abortions.
WHPA Criticisms. Collins characterized the legislation as a “partisan bill designed to fail.” She criticized the WHPA as overly broad, saying its language would infringe on religious liberty. Collins also said it would strike down what she considers reasonable state restrictions, such as those prohibiting sex-based abortions or requiring parental/guardian notification if a minor intends to have an abortion. Murkowski echoed that sentiment, saying the WHPA would nullify “state and religious freedom laws across the country” and fails to prevent taxpayer-funded abortion — a stipulation commonly included in abortion-related legislation known as the Hyde Amendment.