POLITICS
01/29/2018 02:22 pm ET Updated Jan 30, 2018

Senate Fails To Pass 20-Week Abortion Ban

The GOP tried to pressure vulnerable Democrats into supporting it.

The U.S. Senate voted Monday on legislation that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and would threaten doctors with up to five years in jail. 

The bill, passed by the House of Representatives in October, fell short by a vote of 51 to 46 in the Senate. Only three women in the entire Senate ― Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) ― voted for it, while Republican Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) voted against it.

Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.V.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.) and Bob Casey (Penn.) crossed the aisle to support it. Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), the newly elected Democrat from Alabama, voted against it, suggesting that he will uphold his campaign promise to protect reproductive rights despite representing a red state.

President Donald Trump urged lawmakers to reconsider following the vote. “I urge the Senate to reconsider its decision and pass legislation that will celebrate, cherish, and protect life,” Trump said in a statement. 

Conservatives hoped that holding a vote on the bill will put some political pressure on vulnerable Democrats from red states to either support it or risk alienating some of their anti-abortion constituents. 

“Clearly, we need more votes, but at some point when you start to get closer, and senators in vulnerable states start to feel the heat, then it starts to look very optimistic,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, told reporters on Thursday.

Democrats slammed Republican leadership on Monday for prioritizing an abortion ban less than a week after the government shutdown, and as the fate of so-called “Dreamers” ― young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children ― still hangs in the balance. 

“Today, in communities across the country, young people are asking whether they’ll be able to stay in the only country they’ve ever called home,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said in a floor speech before the vote. “Workers and business owners are wondering — again — whether the government will be open in a few weeks.” 

“But, Mr. President — instead of addressing the serious and pressing challenges that people are facing — Republican leaders are debating whether to trust women to make their own health care choices.”

At least two moderate Republicans, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), have expressed concerns about the exceptions in the abortion bill, which was introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). The legislation exempts women who require an abortion to save their lives, as well as rape and incest survivors, but the legislation does not include exemptions for health of the mother or severe fetal anomalies, which often can’t be detected until the 20-week ultrasound. 

Since Republicans started trying to impose the limit in 2013, many women have come forward with their personal stories of discovering at or after the 20-week mark that the fetus would either not survive the pregnancy or would severely suffer after birth. 

“I was absolutely devastated to get that news,” said Kate Williams, who discovered when she was 21 weeks pregnant that her unborn son had Potter syndrome, a fatal condition in which the kidneys fail to develop in the womb. “I called my regular OB-GYN to discuss with her if there was any chance this might not be true. But she looked at the ultrasounds and told me, ‘No, this is the situation.’”

Collins, who voted against the 20-week abortion ban in 2015, told the Washington Examiner last week that she suggested some changes to the language of the bill and will “see what happens.”

A few Democrats are likely to cross over and support the bill, and Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) have already indicated they would vote for it. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.) voted for the legislation alongside Manchin and Donnelly in 2015.

Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) previously voted against the legislation, but are now both up for re-election this year in states that voted for Trump. However, recent polling suggests that supporting abortion rights is more likely to help a candidate, even in red states and especially among independent voters, than to hurt. 

The fact that Republicans scheduled this vote for the day before President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address suggests that Trump may just be looking for something to point to that will appease his base. 

“What the GOP wants people to hear is that they are the “pro-life” party,” said Amanda Thayer, a spokeswoman for NARAL Pro-Choice America, “but there’s no masking the fact that these types of abortion bans disproportionately hurt women and families who face some of the most medically complex situations imaginable.” 

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