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Senate rejects Democratic bill to codify abortion rights

The vote failed as the Supreme Court considers the fate of Roe v. Wade.
Participants hold signs during the Women's March "Hold The Line For Abortion Justice" at the U.S. Capitol on Dec. 1, 2021 in Washington, DC.
People hold signs at the "Hold the Line for Abortion Justice" march at the U.S. Capitol on Dec. 1.Leigh Vogel / Getty Images for Women's March file

WASHINGTON — The Senate voted 46-48 Monday to block a bill pushed by Democrats to codify abortion rights into federal law ahead of an expected Supreme Court decision that could limit access to the procedure.

The legislation, the Women’s Health Protection Act, failed to garner the needed 60 votes to overcome a filibuster and would have fallen short of the 50 votes needed for passage after Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., joined Republicans in opposition.

The Women’s Health Protection Act has 48 Democratic cosponsors; the exceptions are Manchin and Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa. Casey voted to begin debate on the measure. Six senators did not vote.

The Supreme Court is reconsidering the fate of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. The 6-to-3 conservative balance, and the tenor of oral arguments in December, left many foes of legal abortion optimistic that access will be curtailed and proponents of abortion rights expecting the worst.

The legislation, which passed the House in September, represented the last best hope for supporters to see a law enacted that would ensure abortion remains legal in all 50 states. Should the justices overturn Roe, it would trigger restrictive laws in 26 states and allow legislators in others to curtail or outlaw the practice of terminating a pregnancy.

Asked by NBC News about the dead end the bill faces, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said: “This is day one.”

“We’re not going to give up. We’re not going to go away,” she said. “I don’t want to go back to the old days where abortions occurred unsafely, women died. I’m going to keep fighting and I want Americans fighting with us.”

Proponents of abortion rights have been vocal about preparing for a "post-Roe reality" in advance of whatever the Supreme Court decides, with Planned Parenthood telling NBC News last month it was bolstering logistical centers across the country to ease the burden on those seeking abortions by helping with food, lodging, transportation and cash assistance.

Alexis McGill Johnson, the president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said Monday that the "fight continues — in Congress and in the states."

"People deserve access to abortion no matter their zip code or income. It’s unconscionable that so many U.S. senators voted against their own constituents’ health and rights," Johnson said in a statement. "As state legislative chambers escalate their aggressive assaults on reproductive freedoms, we need lawmakers at all levels of government to step up in this moment of crisis."

Carrie Severino, the president of the conservative group Judicial Crisis Network, said Supreme Court arguments "went very well" for abortion opponents. If they win, she noted, it doesn't mean abortion will be illegal everywhere.

"Principally if you live in New York and California, is your abortion law going to change? No," Severino said, adding that a win for the Mississippi state official listed as the main plaintiff would simply send the issue of abortion law back to the states, "where it's always belonged since 1973."