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Emily's List, NARAL pull support of Sinema over opposition to changing filibuster

Abortion rights groups have traditionally resisted abolishing the filibuster in fear that it could backfire on them once conservatives regain control of Washington.
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WASHINGTON — Two abortion rights advocacy organizations on Thursday said they were pulling support of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., after she voted with Republicans against changing Senate rules to ease passage of voting rights legislation.

The Wednesday night vote on the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was 49-51, falling short of the 60 needed to defeat a filibuster. In a 48-52 vote, the Senate were unable to pass a motion by Democrats to change the rules and impose a "talking filibuster," aimed at passing voting rights legislation without Republican support. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Sinema voted with Republicans to reject the rule change.

Emily's List, a national group that supports female Democratic candidates who back abortion rights, announced it had pulled support for Sinema in a statement Thursday.

"We believe the decision by Sen. Sinema is not only a blow to voting rights and our electoral system but also to the work of all the partners who supported her victory and her constituents who tried to communicate the importance of this bill," said Emily's List president Laphonza Butler.

As a result of her vote, Butler said, Emily's List "will no longer be able to endorse Sen. Sinema moving forward."

The organization was Sinema's biggest donor in 2018, contributing over $405,000, according to OpenSecrets.

Separately, NARAL Pro-Choice America, another key funder for candidates who support abortion rights, said in a tweet Thursday, it would only endorse senators "who support changing the Senate rules to pass the critical legislation that will protect voting rights."

"There's no reproductive freedom without the freedom to vote. With both freedoms at stake, we're changing our endorsement criteria," said NARAL.

NARAL endorsed Sinema during her run for the Senate in 2018. As of Thursday, Sinema was not listed under endorsements on its website.

Both groups had issued warnings to Sinema earlier this week amid her refusal to back changes to the Senate rules to ease passage of the voting rights bills.

Abortion rights groups have traditionally opposed abolition of the filibuster in fear that it could backfire on them once conservatives gain control of Washington. In 2018, Republicans sought to curtail legal abortion at the federal level but were blocked by the filibuster. The stance has placed them at odds with other women's rights and progressive groups who support nixing the filibuster.

Sinema, whose seat comes up for reelection in 2024, also faced backlash among Arizona Democrats for her vote. Arizona Democratic Party chair Raquel Terán said that they "were counting on Senator Sinema to fight for Arizona, find a path forward, and protect our democracy, but on this issue she has fallen short."

Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., criticized Sinema's opposition to changing filibuster rules and signaled openness to mounting a primary challenge against her.

In a statement after the vote on Wednesday, Sinema said she feared that chipping away at the 60-vote rule would "deepen our divisions and risk repeated radical reversals in federal policy, cementing uncertainty and further eroding confidence in our government."

Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the political arm of the iconic women's rights group, has not announced any plans to pull support for Sinema. However, Planned Parenthood President and CEO Alexis McGill Johnson did denounce the vote in a series of tweets Thursday, calling it "unconscionable."

Johnson said that access to abortion is "directly linked to access to the ballot box."

"Any Senator who chooses to protect arcane Senate rules over the freedom to vote is betraying their constituents & harming the fight for reproductive rights. They will have to live with the political consequences," said Johnson, without naming Sinema directly.

As of Thursday evening, the congressional scorecard given by the influential organization still lists Sinema with a 100%.

After the rule change effort failed, President Joe Biden said he was "profoundly disappointed that the United States Senate has failed to stand up for our democracy."

"I am disappointed — but I am not deterred," he said, warning that "in state after state, Republican state legislatures are engaged in an unprecedented effort to suppress the sacred right to vote and subvert the American bedrock of free and fair elections."