On July 15, Democrats in the House of Representatives voted to advance a bill that would codify the Supreme Court’s (SCOTUS) 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade into law, sending it to the Senate where it is likely to fail.
The bill, dubbed the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA), passed the House in a 219–210 vote. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), the only pro-life Democrat in the lower chamber, alone defected from his party in opposition to the bill.
In a floor speech defending the bill, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said: “As extreme Republicans continue their assault on reproductive rights, our Ensuring Women’s Right to Reproductive Freedom Act will ensure that the fundamental right to travel and obtain needed health care remains in the hands of the American people. And our Women’s Health Protection Act will once again make the protections of Roe v. Wade the law of the land.”
However, despite marketing the bill as a codification of Roe v. Wade, this bill goes further.
In the standard set out by Roe, states were prohibited from restricting abortion before the so-called “viability line”—an arbitrary line defining the point at which a baby can survive independently outside of his mother’s womb, and which even top biologists in favor of abortion contest the definition of.
But the WHPA has faced criticism in the past for going beyond codifying the standard set out in Roe v. Wade.
The bill, said House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) in a speech opposing the bill on the House floor, “goes way further than Roe under the guise of codifying Roe to push some of the most extreme … pro-abortion legislation that we’ve seen.”
Under Democrats’ WHPA, Scalise noted, the U.S. would join the thin ranks of countries like China and North Korea who share a “radical, abortion on demand up until birth policy.”
With the bill’s passage through the House it will now go to the Senate for consideration, where it is likely to fail.
Like almost all legislation, the WHPA will first need to receive the support of 60 senators to overcome the filibuster threshold and come to the floor for a simple-majority vote. However, this is highly unlikely.
In March, when Democrats brought the bill to the Senate floor for the first time, it was filibustered and shot down by a bipartisan vote of 46–48. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.), who had expressed reservations to the bill, joined Republicans in striking it down.
The revised WHPA, Manchin said at the time, goes well beyond the bounds of Roe v. Wade.
“We’re gonna be voting on a piece of legislation which I will not vote for today,” Manchin told reporters.
“I would vote for a Roe v. Wade codification if it was today, I was hopeful for that,” Manchin explained. “But I found out yesterday in caucus that wasn’t gonna be.”
Manchin is one of only two Democrats in the Senate who have expressed some pro-life sentiments. The other, Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), ultimately ended up voting in favor of the bill.
Moderate Republicans too expressed opposition to the bill at the time.
In a floor speech on the bill in March, swing-voting Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said that while she supports allowing some abortions, the WHPA “goes too far.”
“It would broadly supersede state laws and infringe on Americans’ religious freedoms,” Murkowski said.
Thus, the bill seems unlikely to win the support it will need to pass through the Senate, as Republicans have remained staunchly opposed to the legislation.