As the nation begins with Women’s History Month celebrations and tributes, Republicans blocked legislation to protect abortion rights. In a 46-48 vote, Democrats failed to bring the Women’s Health Protection Act to the floor for consideration. West Virginia Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin once again joined Republicans in opposition.
Illinois senator, Tammy Duckworth issued a statement condemning the vote saying, “As states and courthouses across the country systematically undermine women’s autonomy over their own bodies, it is utterly appalling that Senate Republicans blocked critical legislation to help protect access to basic reproductive care. By failing to advance the Women’s Health Protection Act, Senate Republicans are depriving millions of women, especially low-income women, and women of color, of the healthcare they need when they need it. I refuse to let my daughters grow up in a world with fewer rights than I had, and I won’t stop working to codify Roe v. Wade into law and ensure reproductive freedoms are protected for all women—regardless of their skin color, income, or zip code.”
Women’s rights groups and pro-choice advocates also expressed concern and disappointment over the failed vote. Planned Parenthood Illinois Action CEO and President, Jennifer Welch said, “We are deeply disappointed the Senate failed to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA), a bill that had broad support among voters nationwide. This critical legislation would have protected the right to access abortion throughout the United States and guard against unnecessary abortion restrictions being pushed forward by state politicians. Instead, pregnant people will continue to face mounting uncertainty and confusion about their ability to access safe and legal health care.
We cannot afford to rely on the Senate or the Supreme Court to ensure that people can continue to access essential and time-sensitive reproductive health care. Planned Parenthood of Illinois’ doors will remain open as they continue to prepare for growing numbers of pregnant people traveling here from out of state. Unfortunately, not everyone has the resources or opportunity to travel for an abortion. Patients who already face immense barriers to health care, such as Black, Latino, and Indigenous communities, people with disabilities, people in rural areas, young people, immigrants, and those having difficulty making ends meet are the ones most affected by extreme state laws and unnecessary restrictions on care”.
Access to essential health care should not depend on who you are, how much money you make, or where you live. And we will continue to fight so that everyone can access the health care they need — no matter what.”
The Women’s Health Protection Act protects access to abortions and creates safeguards against bans and medically unnecessary restrictions. In September 2021, the US House of Representatives passed the Act making it the first-time legislation to preserve abortion rights under federal law would have been enacted.
According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, politicians over the last ten years have passed almost 500 state laws restricting abortion access. These restrictions disproportionately affect Black women and other marginalized groups who often face barriers to health care.
Abortion rights is sure to be a major issue as the nation heads into election season. The Supreme Court, currently leaning more conservative, plans to decide a challenge to Roe V. Wade involving a case in Mississippi. The Mississippi Gestational Act allows abortions after 15 weeks only in the event of a medical emergency or severe fetal abnormality. Doctors who perform abortions after 15 weeks in the state risk having their medical licenses suspended or revoked. The Mississippi Attorney General said in his brief filing that Roe V. Wade should be overturned. “The conclusion that abortion is a constitutional right has no basis in text, structure, history, or tradition,” said Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch.
Pro-choice advocates are fearful that the conservative Supreme Court will overturn the landmark Roe V Wade case setting women’s reproductive rights back 50 years. Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley further condemned the blocked vote saying, “In the midst of unprecedented attacks on our reproductive rights and freedoms, the Senate had the opportunity to fight back against these draconian laws and codify the right to abortion care for everyone who calls America home.
While the blocked vote was expected, Democrats hope the vote puts each Senator’s position on abortion rights as a matter of public record as they head into midterm elections. Congresswoman Pressley continued, “Once again, Senate obstructionists chose to stand on the wrong side of history. While the Senate’s failure to pass our Women’s Health Protection Act is disappointing, I am glad that each Senator—Republican and Democrat—was put on the record so their constituents can see whether they support their reproductive rights and bodily autonomy—or the racist and discriminatory abortion bans enacted by anti-choice legislatures across the country. Abortion care is a fundamental human right and the fight to affirm it as such is far from finished.”