Senate Republicans block bill declaring congressional support for abortion access • Alabama Reflector
Senate Republicans block bill declaring congressional support for abortion access • Alabama Reflector

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate deadlocked over reproductive rights on Wednesday as Republicans blocked Democrats from advancing a bill that would have supported abortion access.

The procedural vote, which failed 49-44, was just one of many votes Senate Democrats are holding this summer to highlight differences between the two political parties on issues of contraception, assisted reproduction and abortion ahead of the November elections.

Maine Senator Susan Collins and Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski were the only Republicans to vote for final passage of the bill.

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“This is a simple vote on whether you support women being able to make their own decisions about their reproductive health care,” said Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington during the debate. “It doesn’t force anything. It doesn’t cost anything. It’s really just a half-page bill that simply says women should have the basic freedom to make their own decisions about their health care.”

Minnesota Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar said decisions about abortion and other reproductive health issues should be made by women and their doctors, not politicians.

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

Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow called for support for the bill, saying women should be able to make decisions about their own health care, their lives and their future.

“That is what this vote is about and we will not give up until these freedoms are fully protected,” Stabenow said.

During the debate on the bill before the vote, none of the Republican senators commented.

In fact, the two-page bill would not have made any changes or nationwide protections for access to abortion.

Had the bill passed, it would have been an expression of the “sense of Congress” that abortion rights “should be supported” and that the nationwide constitutional protections for abortion created by Roe v. Wade “should be restored and expanded to move toward a future where there is reproductive freedom for all.”

The Biden administration released a policy statement earlier this week supporting the bill.

“Today, dangerous and extreme abortion bans are in place in more than 20 states, some with no exceptions for rape or incest,” the statement said. “Women are denied basic medical care, including in emergencies, or are forced to travel thousands of miles out of state to receive care that would have been available if Roe were still the law. Doctors and nurses are threatened with prison time.”

Three bills offered, blocked

Wednesday’s blocked procedural vote came just a day after Democrats attempted to fast-track three other reproductive rights bills by unanimous consent.

This is when a senator asks for “unanimous consent” to pass a bill. Any senator can then object and prevent the bill from passing. If no one objects, the bill is passed.

This maneuver is typically used to approve bipartisan measures or to draw the attention of lawmakers to bills without putting them through the time-consuming cloture process, which can take weeks in the Senate.

Nevada State Senator Catherine Cortez Masto tried unsuccessfully on Tuesday to get her bill passed that would have prohibited 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 bill.

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

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

Mississippi Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith objected to the unanimous consent motion, saying that members of the anti-abortion movement are “certainly not opposed to the freedom of every individual to move around this great country,” but that they were concerned the measure would hinder the prosecution of crimes such as human trafficking.

The bill would “set us back,” says Budd

Republicans blocked a second bill, sponsored by Murray, that would have prohibited state governments from preventing, restricting, hindering or discriminating against health care providers from “providing reproductive health services that are 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 doctors in Spokane who are seeing many patients fleeing restrictive abortion bans in states like Idaho, they are terrified that they could face a lawsuit threatening their practice and their livelihood just for doing their job, just for providing the care their patients need – care that, again, is perfectly legal in my state,” Murray said. “We’re talking about people who are following the law and just want to care for their patients. That should be loud and clear.”

North Carolina Republican Senator Ted Budd opposed the bill, saying it “would make it easier to end unborn life.”

“The Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision gave new hope to Americans who believe in the sanctity of every life, including life in the womb,” Budd said. “But this law would set us back.”

After Budd’s objection to the bill’s passage, Murray said his actions “made it clear” that Republican lawmakers “have no problem at all with politicians targeting doctors in states like mine, where abortion is legal.”

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

Scholarship program

Democrats also tried to pass a bill by Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin that would have created a federal grant program to increase the number of health care providers who receive “comprehensive training in abortion care.”

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

“At our top-tier medical schools, the post-Roe reality created chaos as students and their faculty wondered how future physicians in our state would gain access to all the training necessary to safely practice obstetrics and gynecology,” Baldwin said.

Kansas Republican Senator Roger Marshall, a gynecologist, opposed the motion, arguing that the federal government “should not spend taxpayer money encouraging medical students and clinicians to kill when their primary duty and sacred oath is to protect life and do no harm from conception to natural death.”

Repeated attempts throughout 2024

Democrats tried to pass legislation on access to contraception and artificial insemination despite a 60-vote blockade earlier this year, but failed each time to gain the necessary support from Republicans.

In early June, Democrats attempted to introduce legislation that would have protected “individual access to contraception” and “the ability of health care providers to provide contraception, birth control, and contraceptive information.”

A week later, Democrats tried again, this time with a bill that would have given people the right to access IVF and doctors the right to provide that health care without the state or federal government “imposing harmful or unjustified restrictions or requirements.”

Collins and Murkowski were the only Republicans to vote for the final vote on the bill.

Alabama Republican Senator Katie Britt tried unsuccessfully to get a bill on IVF access through the unanimous consent process in mid-June.

The measure, which she co-sponsored with Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, would have barred a state from receiving Medicaid funding if it prevented in vitro fertilization.

The bill, which was sponsored by three co-signers on Wednesday, did not say what would happen to a state’s Medicaid funding if the legislature or a state court defined life as beginning at conception.

That’s why IVF clinics in Alabama were forced to temporarily close earlier this year after the state Supreme Court ruled that embryos frozen at IVF clinics were considered children under state law.

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

By Aurora