Senate Democrats Fail to Federally Enshrine Abortion on Demand Until Birth

March 3, 2022

While most of the world was preoccupied with watching Russia's invasion of Ukraine unfold, Senate Democrats forced a vote Monday night on the deceptively-titled Women's Health Protection Act. A more fitting name for this bill would be the "Abortion on Demand Until Birth Act" because it would codify Roe v. Wade's precedent of allowing abortion throughout pregnancy. Although the bill failed to advance by a 46-48 vote, by bringing the bill to the Senate floor, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) sent a clear message to the country about where congressional Democrats stand on abortion in the lead-up to this fall's midterm elections.

"It is a dark, dark time for women's reproductive rights," Schumer said before the vote to invoke cloture (i.e., end debate and proceed to voting on final passage of the bill). "We cannot simply stand by and let this happen. There is too much at stake." Of course, Schumer knew the cloture vote would be unsuccessful. Even if he had kept his caucus together--he didn't; Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) joined the Republicans in voting "no"--Schumer didn't have the 60 votes required to invoke cloture. But the Majority Leader forced a vote anyway, keen to placate the pro-abortion lobby that is anxiously awaiting the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization,a case that has the potential to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Thus, even though it was doomed to fail, Senator Schumer forced 94 U.S. senators--including vulnerable Democrats up for reelection, such as Mark Kelly (Ariz.), Maggie Hassan (N.H.), and Catherine Cortez-Masto (Nev.)--to officially go on the record on the most extreme abortion bill ever considered by Congress. But in one sense, Schumer's political gambit was helpful in further highlighting the worldview divide between the major political parties.

Consider the legislation itself. The bill, which previously passed the House in September on a nearly-partisan vote (Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas was the lone Democrat to vote "no"), would eliminate almost every state-level restriction on abortion. Additionally, the bill would weaken conscience protections for medical professionals, jeopardize prohibitions on taxpayer funding for abortion, enshrine late-term abortion into law, strike down commonsense pro-life laws, and equate the death of unborn children with routine medical procedures. Furthermore, as I've highlighted elsewhere, if the bill were to become law, state laws requiring informed consent, waiting periods, or counseling prior to receiving an abortion would be overturned. The bill's prohibition on protecting unborn lives at any point prior to fetal viability (generally set at 22-24 weeks gestation) means that laws like Texas' Heartbeat Act (S.B. 8), which the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed to stand for the past six months, would be invalidated.

Additionally, the post-viability clause stipulates that health care providers (i.e., abortionists) could carry out abortions after 24 weeks if they determined that the health of the mother (the bill itself uses the term "pregnant patient" to appease LGBT activists) was in danger. Because the bill does not define the terms "health" and "risk," the health exemption could be broadly interpreted to include mental or emotional health, effectively enshrining abortion until birth into federal law.

In short, the Women's Health Protection Act, more aptly referred to as the "Abortion on Demand Until Birth Act," is the most pro-abortion piece of legislation ever seen at the federal level. Its existence underscores the profound worldview divide between Republicans and Democrats, who increasingly disagree on the definition of personhood. Whereas Republicans routinely vote to recognize preborn babies as human beings deserving of the protection of our nation's laws, Democrats now regularly vote in favor of "reproductive freedom" and a "woman's right to choose," euphemisms for abortion. Democrats continue to champion abortion despite advances in embryology and technology that make the medical and moral case of the humanity of preborn children undeniable.

Only two congressional Democrats, Rep. Cuellar and Sen. Manchin, voted against the Abortion on Demand Until Birth Act. Democratic senators Feinstein (Calif.), Lujan (N.M.), and Warnock (Ga.) did not participate in the vote but are all original co-sponsors of the bill. Although it comes as no surprise that Democrats are almost unanimously voting in line with their party's platform, we should not become numb to the fact that one of America's two major political parties sees abortion as a cause that must be taken up with a religious-like zeal. Monday's vote highlights the current political landscape on abortion and underscores how much work the pro-life movement still has to do.