U.S. Senate GOP blocks bill proclaiming congressional support for abortion access

Republished from Kentucky Lantern

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate gridlocked over reproductive rights on Wednesday, when Republicans blocked Democrats from advancing a measure that would have expressed support for abortion access.

The failed 49-44 procedural vote was just one in a string of votes Senate Democrats are holding this summer to highlight the differences between the two political parties on contraception, in vitro fertilization and abortion ahead of the November elections.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski were the only Republicans to vote to move the bill toward final passage.

“This is a plain, up-or-down vote on whether you support women being able to make their own reproductive health care decisions,” Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray said during floor debate. “It doesn’t enforce anything. It doesn’t cost anything. It’s actually just a half-page bill, simply saying that women should have the basic freedom to make their own decisions about their health care.”

Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar said that women and their doctors, not politicians, should make decisions about abortion and other reproductive health choices.

“This is our current reality, but it doesn’t have to be our future,” Klobuchar said. “This is a pivotal moment for America: Are we going to move forward and protect freedom, which has long been a hallmark of our nation, or are we going to go further backwards in history — not just to the 1950s but to the 1850s.”

Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow urged support for the legislation, saying women should be able to make decisions about their own health care, lives and futures.

“That’s what this vote is about and we’re not going to give up until we have those freedoms fully protected,” Stabenow said.

No Republican senators spoke during debate on the bill ahead of the vote.

The two-page bill would not have actually changed or provided any nationwide protections for abortion access.

The legislation, if enacted, would have expressed a “sense of Congress” that abortion rights “should be supported” and that the nationwide, constitutional protections for abortion established by Roe v. Wade “should be restored and built upon, moving towards a future where there is reproductive freedom for all.”

The Biden administration released a Statement of Administration Policy earlier in the week, backing the bill.

“Today, more than 20 states have dangerous and extreme abortion bans in effect, some without exceptions for rape or incest,” the statement said. “Women are being denied essential medical care, including during an emergency, or forced to travel thousands of miles out of state for care that would have been available if Roe were still the law of the land. Doctors and nurses are being threatened with jail time.”

Trio of bills offered, blocked

The blocked procedural vote on Wednesday came just one day after Democrats went to the floor in an attempt to pass three other bills on reproductive rights through the fast-track unanimous consent process.

That involves one senator asking “unanimous consent” to pass legislation. Any one senator can then object, blocking passage of the bill. If no one objects, the bill is passed.

The maneuver is typically used to approve broadly bipartisan measures or for lawmakers to bring attention to legislation without moving it through the time-consuming cloture process that can take weeks in the Senate.

Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto on Tuesday tried unsuccessfully to pass her bill, which would have barred the government from preventing travel “to another state to receive or provide reproductive health care that is legal in that state.”

Forty Democratic or independent senators co-sponsored the legislation.

During brief floor debate, Cortez Masto said the bill “reaffirms that women have a fundamental right to interstate travel and makes it crystal clear that states cannot prosecute women — or anyone who helps them — for going to another state to get the critical reproductive care that they need.”

“Elected officials in states like Tennessee and Texas and Alabama are trying to punish women for leaving their state for reproductive care, as well as anyone who helps them, including their doctors or even their employers,” Cortez Masto said. “Why? Because for these anti-choice politicians, this is about controlling women.”

Mississippi Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith objected to the unanimous consent request, saying that while members of the anti-abortion movement “most certainly do not oppose any individual’s freedom to travel across this great country,” they do have concerns the measure would hinder prosecution of crimes, like human trafficking.

Bill would ‘take us backward,” Budd says

Republicans blocked a second bill, sponsored by Murray, that would have blocked state governments from preventing, restricting, impeding, or disadvantaging health care providers from providing “reproductive health care services lawful in the state in which the services are to be provided.”

The bill was co-sponsored by 30 Democratic or independent senators.

“When I talk to abortion providers in Spokane, where they see a lot of patients fleeing restrictive abortion bans from states like Idaho, they are terrified that they could face a lawsuit that will threaten their practice and their livelihood, just for doing their jobs, just for providing care their patients need — care that is, once again, completely legal in my state,” Murray said. “We are talking about people who are following the law and simply want to provide care to their patients. This should be cut-and-dried.”

North Carolina GOP Sen. Ted Budd objected to the request, arguing the bill “would make it easier for unborn life to be ended.”

“The Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision brought renewed hope to Americans who believe in the sanctity of each and every life, including life in the womb,” Budd said. “But this bill would take us backward.”

Following Budd’s objection to passing the bill, Murray said his actions “made clear” that GOP lawmakers “have no problem whatsoever with politicians targeting doctors in states like mine, where abortion is legal.”

“I think that pretty much gives the game away,” Murray added.

Grant program

Democrats also tried to pass legislation from Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin that would have established a federal grant program to bolster the number of health care providers who receive “comprehensive training in abortion care.”

That bill had seven Democratic or independent co-sponsors in the Senate.

“For our top-ranked medical schools, a post-Roe reality sowed chaos as students and their instructors wondered how future doctors in our state would have access to the full slate of training necessary to safely practice obstetrics and gynecology,” Baldwin said.

Kansas Republican Sen. Roger Marshall, an OB-GYN, blocked the request, saying that the federal government “should not be spending taxpayer dollars to encourage medical students and clinicians to take life when their principal duty, their sacred oath, is to protect life and to do no harm from conception to natural death.”

Repeated attempts throughout 2024

Democrats sought to advance legislation on access to contraception and in vitro fertilization despite the 60-vote legislative filibuster earlier this year, and failed to get the necessary Republican support each time.

In early June, Democrats tried to advance legislation that would have protected “an individual’s ability to access contraceptives” and “a health care provider’s ability to provide contraceptives, contraception, and information related to contraception.”

A week later, Democrats tried again, this time with legislation that would have provided a right for people to access IVF and for doctors to provide that health care without the state or federal government “enacting harmful or unwarranted limitations or requirements.”

Collins and Murkowski were the only Republicans to vote to move the bills toward a final passage vote.

Alabama GOP Sen. Katie Britt attempted to pass an IVF access bill through the unanimous consent process in mid-June, but was unsuccessful.

That measure, which she co-sponsored with Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, would have blocked a state from receiving Medicaid funding if it prevented IVF.

The legislation, which had three co-sponsors as of Wednesday, didn’t say what would happen to a state’s Medicaid funding if lawmakers or a state court defined life as starting at conception.

That’s what led IVF clinics in Alabama to temporarily shut down earlier this year after the state Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos at IVF clinics constitute children under state law.

The Alabama state legislature has since provided civil and criminal protections for IVF clinics.

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