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Senate Democrats failed to advance a bill protecting abortion access nationwide

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Today, Senate Democrats tried and failed to advance a bill to require equal access to abortion nationwide. All but one of the Senate's 50 Democrats voted for it. That one Democrat was West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, who sided with all the Republicans in opposition to the bill. Democrats were responding to a recently leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade and would ultimately allow states to ban or restrict abortion access. Now, the final court decision is expected next month.

And joining us now is NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Hey, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK. I mean, it was a given that Democrats didn't have enough votes to advance an abortion bill in the Senate. So what was the point of today's vote?

DAVIS: You know, really, the only thing Democrats can do here is try to create political pressure against Republicans going into the election. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said as much this morning on the Senate floor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHUCK SCHUMER: Tens of millions of women are watching what will happen to the rights they've relied on for decades. And all of us will have to answer for this vote for the rest of our time in public office.

DAVIS: Democrats remain confident they have public opinion on their side - most Americans in polls say they do believe women should have some level of access to abortion procedures - but they're essentially powerless to do anything to stop the court if they rule to overturn Roe, despite controlling Congress and the White House. The realities of the 50-50 Senate have not changed. Democrats don't have the votes to change the Senate filibuster rules to make it easier to pass legislation. And today's vote also proved they don't even have a simple majority of support to pass the bill, even if they did.

CHANG: Yeah. I mean, what about Manchin? I mean, hasn't he said that he does support codifying Roe v. Wade into federal law? But he voted against the bill today. Why?

DAVIS: He also voted against a similar bill back in February. Manchin supports some level of basic abortion access, but he's always been more of a socially conservative Democrat, and he's more supportive of restrictions around abortions - think of things like mandatory waiting periods or requiring ultrasounds before an abortion can be performed. He told reporters he feared that this bill would go too far, that it would supersede states that have restrictions like that in place, and he didn't support that. He wanted more of a pared down bill.

CHANG: Well, what about two Republican women senators? I'm talking about Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. I mean, they both openly support Roe v. Wade, but they voted against the bill today. How did they explain that?

DAVIS: They shared a lot of those same concerns as Manchin, but they've also introduced competing legislation that would also codify Roe, it just wouldn't go as far as the Democrats' bill to protect abortion rights. It would also do more to protect people who have religious or moral opposition to abortion, and it is drawing some level of Democratic interest. Collins is talking to senators like Manchin. Another senator, Tim Kaine is a Democrat from Virginia who has also had, at least previously, some more conservative views around abortion access, certainly compared to more liberal Democrats.

But at the same time, the same problem still exists. It's unlikely that they could get any additional Republicans on board for their Republican bill and highly unlikely they can get a critical mass of Democrats on board for it either.

CHANG: Yeah. So if that is the case, where does this abortion debate on Capitol Hill go?

DAVIS: I mean, in Congress, it's frankly going nowhere, at least not before the election. One of the big questions in the midterms is, how much of this impact have on voters? I mean, Democrats want to believe that it's going to bring voters to the polls to vote for them, but it's just not clear yet how voters are going to rank abortion in deciding how they're going to vote.

And, you know, Republicans remain heavily favored to win control of the House. And if that happens, there will be zero chance of any legislation to protect abortion rights in the next Congress.

CHANG: That is NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Thank you, Sue.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.