After the failure of the Senate bill on abortion

“Every American will see where every senator stands,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said last week, calling for a vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act. The bill would have banned nearly all abortion restrictions, making it the most permissive abortion bill ever considered by Congress. There was no way it would pass. In September, it only narrowly passed the House and along party lines. (No Republicans voted for it, and only one Democrat, Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, voted against.) And on Wednesday, as expected, he trailed the Senate, 49-51, short not just of a simple majority but, more importantly, the super-majority of sixty votes required to overcome the inevitable obstruction.

Why hold the Senate vote? The roll call actually revealed nothing about each senator’s position; it only showed how much the parties have hardened, which everyone already knew. (Only West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin has crossed party lines.) But Schumer is eyeing the midterm elections. Democrats are hoping to lure voters to the polls and to their side of the ballot, following an expected Supreme Court ruling this summer reversing its landmark 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade. The Senate vote came barely a week after a leaked draft opinion in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, authored by Samuel Alito and evidently joined by four other GOP-appointed justices, which argues that ‘no right to abortion can be found in the Constitution or read into the Fourteenth Amendment, and that, therefore, such a right does not exist. Alito’s draft is so shabby and obscure that it might just be the final straw. Politically, the consequences are less clear.

Unfortunately for Schumer, the Senate vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act serves Republicans in addition to Democrats, as the bill is out of step with public opinion on abortion; the majority of Americans favor keeping abortion legal, but with some restrictions. You can’t be a little pregnant. But you can be anything other than uncompromising pro-life (opposed to abortion even in cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother) or unwavering pro-choice (allowing abortion in the final weeks of a healthy pregnancy). And in that in-between place – a haunted place of hardship, anxiety, relief, and grief – is where most Americans stand.

Politicians hoping to raise money from this latest battle are keen to portray it as a competition between the two sides, even though the people who have suffered the most during this long war are poor women, poor families and poor children. Structurally, the struggle is not between Democrats and Republicans, but between the people and the Constitution. Women have been trying to achieve equal rights since the founding of this country, including through constitutional amendment. The last significant amendment to the Constitution—lowering the voting age to eighteen—was ratified in July 1971. In December, the Court heard Roe’s arguments. In March 1972, Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment and sent it to the states, where it needed quick ratification. In May, John George Schmitz, a Republican congressman representing California, introduced another proposal on the floor, the Right to Life First Amendment, which would prohibit states from taking the life of any individual “when it is designed “. Over the next fifty years, versions of this amendment have been introduced in Congress more than six hundred times.

Had the Constitutional Amendments been ratified by a simple majority of the popular vote (rather than a two-thirds majority in each House of Congress and three-fourths of the states), the Equal Rights Amendment would have passed in the seventies, and the right to life amendment would have failed. The people, as political scientist Austin Ranney has observed, “are considerably more receptive than members of Congress to constitutional change.” Americans polled in the 1970s and 1980s supported nine of eleven proposed constitutional amendments, including direct election of the president, term limits in Congress, and prayer in schools. The right to life amendment is the only one they absolutely rejected. The numbers have remained stable since, with just under two-thirds opposed and around one-third in favor. Meanwhile, since the 1970s, well over three-quarters of Americans have consistently supported the ERA, including through its apparent failure in 1982.

“All of America will be watching,” Schumer said, ahead of the vote on the abortion bill, predicting that Republicans who oppose it will “suffer electoral consequences.” the Time voted live. Fox News didn’t bother. “Unfortunately, the Senate has not defended a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body,” Vice President Kamala Harris, who chaired the roll call, told reporters. “This vote clearly suggests that the Senate is not where the majority of Americans are on this issue.” Except that the legislation, as written, is not exactly where the majority of Americans are on this issue. And, though Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, centrist Republicans, have waved toward possible compromises, Democratic leaders, with the exception of Virginia’s Tim Kaine, have shown little interest in working together on legislation. more narrow. A compromised version, people obviously thought, would die of obstruction.

If the Democratic response to Alito’s plan was largely rhetorical: “Do something, Democrats! chanted anguished protesters outside the Supreme Court – was this also a missed opportunity? Republican officials at the federal and state levels have opposed government funding for child care, parental leave, sex education and contraception, as well as reproductive, maternal, newborn and pediatric health services. . In Republican-run Mississippi, where the Dobbs case originated, child poverty and infant mortality rates are the highest in the nation. (The maternal mortality rate in the United States is the highest among developed countries.) Hours before the Senate vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act, Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska and sometimes a party renegade, implored Democrats to use the moment to push for maternal, infant and child care health. Could they have persuaded Republicans to support measures to help poor women and children? Unlikely, given the all-or-nothing state of politics. “Let’s do it,” Sasse said. It was here, and only here, that Democrats and Republicans agreed last week, both responding, in effect, “No, let’s run on this in November instead.” ♦

Norman D. Briggs