December 5, 2021

Biden, Democrats look to counter Texas abortion ban

Democrats plan to debate and vote on legislation aimed at stopping states from enacting tough anti-abortion regulations.

The Democratic-controlled United States House of Representatives plans to debate and vote on legislation aimed at stopping states from enacting tough anti-abortion regulations like the one in Texas, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday, but the bill’s prospects in the Senate were slim.

Declaring that the Texas statute “delivers catastrophe to women in Texas, particularly women of color and women from low-income communities,” Pelosi said in a statement that a Democratic bill would be brought before the full House after September 20, when its recess is scheduled to end.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters President Joe Biden will consult with members of Congress on legislation to protect women’s right to abortions. She said a range of approaches were under review, including the bill to be voted upon by the House.

Biden said in a statement that his administration will launch a “whole-of-government effort to respond to this decision” and look at “what steps the federal government can take to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions as protected by Roe”.

US President Joe Biden denounced the Supreme Court’s decision not to block a new Texas law banning most abortions in the state [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement that the Justice Department was “deeply concerned” about the Texas law and “evaluating all options to protect the constitutional rights of women, including access to an abortion”.

It was unclear whether the Senate would bring up such a bill even if it is passed by the House, however. It would face a difficult path in the 100-member chamber, which is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, with Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris having the power to break tie votes.

Most legislation requires the support of at least 60 lawmakers to advance in the Senate. The House Democrats’ measure, the Women’s Health Protection Act, would likely struggle to get 10 votes among Senate Republicans and could even fail to get the support of all 50 Democratic senators.

Most Republicans oppose abortion, one of the most divisive issues in the US, and many have urged the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade, the landmark decision making it a woman’s constitutional right.

The Women’s Health Protection Act has been introduced in Congress multiple times since 2013 but has never advanced in either the House or Senate.

The issue took on renewed urgency for Democrats after a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling late on Wednesday allowing a Texas law imposing a near-total ban on abortion to remain in force.

Anti-abortion rights and pro-abortion rights demonstrators gathered outside of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC [File: Tom Brenner/Reuters]

The bill aims to protect health care providers’ ability to deliver abortion services free from restrictions such as waiting periods, admitting privilege requirements for providers, or what supporters argue are unnecessary medical procedures, like ultrasounds, before an abortion can be performed.

The Texas law and the Supreme Court’s initial reaction to it could motivate Democratic voters to turn out in elections in November 2022, which Republicans are hoping will allow them to take control of the House and Senate.

With such a tenuous hold on the two chambers, a number of Democrats want to change the 60-vote “filibuster” rule in the Senate so that bills could advance now with a simple majority of 51 legislators.

“Democrats can either abolish the filibuster and expand the court, or do nothing as millions of peoples’ bodies, rights, and lives are sacrificed for far-right minority rule,” liberal Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter.

“This shouldn’t be a difficult decision,” she said.