Senate Democrats failed to advance legislation to establish a federal right to abortion on Wednesday in a vote party leaders expected to lose.
Intended to put lawmakers on the record ahead of this summer's expected Supreme Court ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 49-51 vote fell short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican-led filibuster in the evenly divided Senate. U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, joined every Republican senator in opposition to the procedural question.
Both of Colorado's senators, Democrats Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, voted to debate the bill and described the stakes in stark terms after their side lost.
Supporters said the Women's Health Protection Act would enshrine the 1973 decision in federal law, but critics of the proposed measure — including Manchin and two GOP senators who have previously voted in support of abortion rights, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — said the legislation went too far beyond Roe's protection of a constitutional right to the procedure, including a ban on many state-level restrictions on abortion.
Bennet, who is seeking reelection to a third full term this year, said he is disappointed but not surprised by Wednesday's vote.
“After 50 years of settled law, the Supreme Court appears to be on the brink of overturning Roe vs. Wade and stripping women of their fundamental right to choose," he said in a statement. "The intensely personal choice about whether or not to have an abortion should be made by a woman and her doctor — not politicians. If individual liberty means anything, it has to include the freedom of every woman, no matter where she lives, to make her own reproductive and health choices."
Added Bennet: “Today’s setback is disappointing, but not surprising. In the days ahead, we must continue the fight to codify the right to choose.”
Referring to the leaked draft of a majority opinion published last week by Politico, Hickenlooper called it "outrageous" that a majority of the high court's justices appear to be poised to reverse the landmark ruling.
“Five Supreme Court justices are set to strip a woman of the right to make her own health care decisions, including the choice to have an abortion," Hickenlooper said in a statement.
“Every sitting justice agreed during their nomination that Roe is settled law and two-thirds of Americans support this fundamental right. It’s outrageous they’ll now throw out 50 years of precedent," he said. “Republicans voted today to put politics between women and their doctors. We aren’t giving up; women's rights must be protected.”
The draft opinion, which Chief Justice John Roberts emphasized isn't necessarily final in the wake of the unprecedented leak, would allow states to set their own abortion policies, though Democrats have been warning this week that Republicans are already talking about passing national restrictions if the GOP wins a majority in the Senate in this year's election.
“When November comes, Americans everywhere need to make their voices heard by sending more pro-choice voices to the Senate and to the House so we can get this done,” said U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat, before the vote.
U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Silt Republican and vocal abortion opponent, celebrated the Democrats' loss on Twitter.
"Life WINS in the Senate! Life will WIN in America!" she tweeted after the vote.
House Pro-Choice Caucus co-chairs U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, a Denver Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, a California Democrat, released a joint statement calling the Senate's failure to pass the legislation "inexcusable," noting that the Democratic-controlled House passed the bill in September.
“It’s been over seven months since the House passed the Women’s Health Protection Act, and, in that time, we’ve seen abortion rights eroded further and further. As a result, millions of Americans now lack access to abortion services, and this will only be compounded if the Supreme Court overturns Roe," they said. “We are frustrated, we are upset and we are angry – but we are also more determined than ever. Our fight to protect Americans’ access to abortion care did not end with today’s vote in the Senate, it has only just begun."
On Tuesday, DeGette and fellow Colorado Democrat Jason Crow were among the leaders of a letter signed by more than 100 of their House colleagues that called on the Senate to abolish the filibuster so the bill could be passed with a simple majority.
The Roe decision, the House Democrats wrote, "has given people safer access to abortion services and contraception, and has helped make America a beacon of hope. However, after decades of attacks on abortion rights, the recent draft opinion by the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade not only endangers millions of people and families — it also shows us that we can no longer rely on the courts to protect these fundamental rights. We must codify the right to abortion access through federal legislation, and we cannot allow the filibuster to stand in the way.”