A bill to protect the right to have an abortion in the United States died in the Senate on Monday after it failed to garner enough Republican support to pass a procedural vote.
While the Women's Health Protection Act was expected to fail, Democratic leaders were under pressure from constituents to put it to a vote anyway in a show of support for federal abortion rights, as the U.S. Supreme Court could soon upend those rights.
Reproductive rights advocates see federal legislation as possibly the best chance to codify the right to terminate pregnancy in the United States, particularly after the U.S. Supreme Court's conservative justices signaled, they could soon cut constitutional protections.
The bill would have needed several Republicans' support to reach the necessary 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster. The vote was 48-46. Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat, voted against the bill, as did Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, moderate Republicans who have supported limited abortion rights.
"Abortion is a fundamental right and women's decisions over women's health care belong to women, not to extremist right-wing legislators," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters ahead of Monday's vote.
Abortion opponents characterized the bill as radical and said it would nullify state laws that have been passed to restrict abortions.
"It's extreme. It's an egregious violation of the most fundamental of all human rights, and that is the right to life," Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana said of the bill in debate on Monday.
The Women's Health Protection Act, co-sponsored by 48 Senate Democrats, stated that healthcare providers should be able to provide abortions without a number of barriers, including restrictions on abortions prior to fetal viability, which many states currently have in place. It proposed that the U.S. attorney general could sue any state or government official who violated its terms.
Abortion rights advocates said the fact that the Senate was holding the vote at all was a victory, since it forced senators to go on the record for their constituents to judge.
Abortion is poised to be a key campaign issue for members of Congress running for re-election in 2022.
"Every American deserves to know where their senator stands on an issue as important as the right to choose," Schumer told reporters.
The right to have an abortion prior to fetal viability, typically around 23 or 24 weeks, has been protected under the Constitution since the Supreme Court's 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade.
In December, the Supreme Court signaled its willingness to undermine Roe v. Wade and permit a Mississippi ban on abortion after 15 weeks. The court's decision in that case is expected in late spring.
Some 26 states would move to immediately ban abortion if Roe is overturned, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights advocacy research group.