The United States Senate has returned from recess, and the first major item on the legislative agenda is not humanitarian and security aid for Ukraine's war against Russian invaders. Instead, Democratic leadership has scheduled a procedural vote for a radical abortion bill that would essentially codify Roe v. Wade into federal law.
Democrats will attempt to advance the Women's Health Protection Act Monday, a bill that advocates say will enshrine the right to an abortion into United States law and protect abortion rights in case the Supreme Court overturns Roe later this year.
Pro-life activists warn the bill would severely undermine state laws to protect pre-born children and prevent pro-life legislation from being passed in the future.
The Supreme Court recognized a constitutional right to abortion in its 1973 decision in Roe. In addition to establishing a statutory right to an abortion, the Women's Health Protection Act would erase "medically unnecessary restrictions, limitations, and bans that delay, and at times, completely obstruct, access to abortion," according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.
State laws banning abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, 20-week bans, mandatory ultrasounds, waiting periods, and requirements that women seek counseling before obtaining an abortion would be struck down if the bill were enacted into federal law.
The legislation is co-sponsored by 48 Senate Democrats. President Joe Biden also supports the bill, which would fulfill his campaign promise to "pass legislation making Roe the law of the land." The Democratic majority in the House of Representatives passed the bill in the fall, but it is not expected to pass the Senate, where Democrats do not have enough support to meet the 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster.
Given the reality of an evenly split Senate, the decision to bring up the Women's Health Protection Act for a procedural vote today is largely symbolic, and even advocates are admitting as much.
"I think it's going to be very important that the senators are on the record," said Nancy Northup, the CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in an interview with Reuters. Knowing the bill won't pass, she said the vote itself will be a win for abortion rights, adding, "The voters can judge them on that record when they make their decisions at the polls."
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), a pro-choice Republican, criticized Democrats for bringing the bill up for a vote Monday instead of considering an aid package for Ukraine requested by the White House on Friday,
"The Senate must focus on that growing crisis as we return to session tomorrow. A substantial and bipartisan package with aid for Ukraine and penalties for Russia cannot wait," Murkowski tweeted late Sunday.
"The measures currently on the Senate’s schedule – the Women’s Health Protection Act and a postal reform bill – are important issues. But WHPA lacks the votes to proceed and is set up to fail, so we should work to find a path that actually protects women’s right to choose," she said.
She concluded: "The world is watching. The Senate must agree on a package with humanitarian and defense aid for @Ukraine, while imposing sweeping sanctions and penalties on Russia—including strict embargoes on their energy and seafood. Countless lives and a budding democracy are at stake."
The White House on Friday asked Congress to approve a $6.4 billion aid package for Ukraine, including $2.9 billion in security and humanitarian assistance and $3.5 billion for the Department of Defense.