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Editorial: The Senate could save a woman’s right to control her own body. But it probably won’t

A woman, right, with green scarves on her neck and arm, walks with a group of people carrying protest signs
Micaela Bronstein, 34, and other abortion rights supporters and activists from Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights LA march on Santa Monica Boulevard on May 7, 2022, in West Hollywood.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

With the Supreme Court poised to overturn Roe vs. Wade and allowing states to outlaw abortion, Senate Democrats will try on Wednesday to pass a national bill to protect a woman’s right to control her own body.

The Women’s Health Protection Act has been passed by the House, but failed in the Senate. It guarantees the right to an abortion up to the point of the fetus’ viability outside the womb. A law that simply spells out the right to an abortion, which has been constitutionally guaranteed for half a century, is something every senator should support. Unfortunately, the bill is likely to fail though it will probably get more votes than it did in late February when Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) brought it to the floor and didn’t even have all the Democrats behind it.

This time, as long as all the Democrats are present, the bill is expected to get 49 votes. Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W. Va.) voted against it in February and as of Tuesday it was unclear what he would do Wednesday. Even 50 votes would only open it for a floor debate. The bill needs 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

This is appalling. Every person, not just every woman, should be outraged to watch the Senate fail to protect a right we all know is on the verge of being taken away by a Supreme Court majority tacking so far to the right that it is ignoring precedent (Roe vs. Wade) upon precedent (Casey vs. Planned Parenthood).

The Supreme Court is expected to overturn Roe vs. Wade. Our voting complacency let it happen. We have to stop being complacent now.

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And it’s not acceptable that Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) don’t want to vote for this bill. They are pro-abortion rights and have said they are troubled to find out that two recently appointed justices — Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh — they voted to put on the court told the senators they considered Roe settled law and are now acting as if they don’t. It’s time for Collins and Murkowski to step in where those justices failed them.

Instead, Collins has said she is worried that the Women’s Health Protection Act might not allow an exemption for doctors, providers and hospitals who choose to not provide abortion. That’s absolutely not the case. This bill would not force anyone or any employer to do something it doesn’t choose to do. It’s about making sure state governments allow providers of abortions to provide them and people seeking abortion to obtain the procedure.

Collins and Murkowski offered up a tepid one-and-a-half page alternative bill that has been rejected by Schumer and more than a dozen abortion rights and civil rights advocacy groups. Their bill codifies Roe into law and prevents a state from imposing an undue burden on women seeking abortions. That language is too vague. The Supreme Court decision in Casey says the same thing and yet states have passed hundreds of restrictions that unduly burden people seeking an abortion, and providers as well.

The Women’s Health Protection Act smartly lists numerous types of unnecessary prerequisites for abortion that will no longer be allowed and explicitly states a woman has a right to an abortion up to viability.

Every senator should vote to protect the right to abortion on Wednesday. Collins and Murkowski should lead the way.


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