U.S. Senate rejects two anti-abortion bills

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Senate Republicans are willing to support $1.3 trillion in COVID-19 relief. Democrats say it's not enough. Photo by Getty Images.

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell doesn’t allow many bills to get floor votes these days, but he made an exception Tuesday for two bills intended to curb abortion access.

Two GOP-led anti-abortion bills failed on procedural votes Tuesday as expected. The politically charged bills have both failed during previous Senate floor votes and were widely viewed as Republican messaging bills intended to animate the GOP base and to force moderate Democrats to take difficult stances ahead of the November elections.

The bills both fell short of the 60 votes they would have needed to proceed in the Senate.

Both Republican bills focus on late-term abortions, which are quite rare. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that abortions after 20 weeks accounted for 1.2 percent of abortions in 2016, The New York Times reported.

One of the bills, from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), would criminalize abortions performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy, providing for exceptions to save the life of the pregnant woman and if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. But opponents say the legislation would be unconstitutional, could jeopardize mothers’ health and would serve to intimidate health care providers.

That bill failed to advance by a vote of 53-44. Two Democrats voted for it: Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Two Republicans voted against it: Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

The other bill, from Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), would require health care providers to make every attempt possible to save the life of a child born alive following an abortion or an attempted abortion. Anyone who violates the requirements would face a fine, up to five years in prison, or both.

The measure failed 56-41. Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) joined Casey and Manchin to break ranks from their party in supporting the bill. Collins and Murkowski joined their GOP colleagues to vote for Sasse’s bill.

“We’re talking about killing babies that are born,” Sasse said Tuesday on the Senate floor.

But critics, including doctors who oppose the bill, have warned that the legislation could further complicate already difficult medical procedures.

This could occur when a fetus is at the edge of viability and labor must be induced to save the mother’s life, Dr. Daniel Grossman, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Francisco, told The New York Times last year. The Senate bill would force doctors to resuscitate the infant, even if that’s not what the family wanted.

“We should not unnecessarily create new federal crimes and penalties to punish behavior that is already illegal under existing state and federal laws,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said in a statement.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) assailed the GOP bills on the Senate floor as “part of a wave of efforts to turn back the clock on women’s health care.”

Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender was the States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief from January 2019 until June 2020. She coordinated the network’s national coverage and reported on states’ congressional delegations, federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts. Prior to that, Robin was an editor and reporter at E&E News, a reporter at Politico, and a freelance producer for Reuters TV.