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What can Democrats in Congress do to protect abortion rights?  Probably nothing, at least for now


As reactions to the Dobbs decision mount, congressional Democrats are outraged. But don’t expect that outrage to translate into passable legislation anytime soon.

Any effort to codify a woman’s right to choose should erase the Senate filibuster. This means 60 votes. And those votes are nowhere to be found in the Senate.

Undoubtedly, the Supreme Court’s decision on Friday will reignite discussion among some progressives about striking down the filibuster in an attempt to codify rights previously enshrined in Roe v. Wade. They’ll have to wait to see if those talks gain traction, but 50 votes are needed to change the Senate rules.

That will require the support of Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has been exceptionally clear that he does not support a filibuster exclusion. Without his support, the rules of the Senate cannot be changed.

Abortion rights activists gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington, June 24, 2022. The Supreme Court ended constitutional abortion protections that had been in place for nearly 50 years.

Jose Luis Magana/AP

In a statement Friday after the decision, Manchin said he hoped for a bipartisan solution (which, if some are reading Joe Manchin’s tea leaves, probably means a way forward that doesn’t involve changing Senate rules. ).

“Let’s be clear, I support legislation that would codify the rights previously protected by Roe v. Wade,” Manchin said in a statement. “I hope Democrats and Republicans come together to come up with a bill that would do just that.”

When the Dobbs draft ruling was leaked in May, reporters sued Manchin to ask if he would support a filibuster exclusion to codify Roe. He held the line then on defending Senate rules. He was asked if he would be willing to get rid of the filibuster in light of the ruling if it meant Democrats could succeed in their effort to codify Roe.

“The filibuster is the only protection of democracy,” he said.

What can Democrats in Congress do to protect abortion rights?  Probably nothing, at least for now

Senator Joe Manchin walks through a construction tunnel at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, June 14, 2022.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

When reporters pushed him on the women who are going to be affected by the decision, he said: ‘We have protected women’s rights with the filibuster, so we have to look at it. But the bottom line is that it is the only check and balance We have.”

Manchin is deeply unlikely to change his tune, meaning any legislative effort will be largely for show. This is a road Democrats have traveled before. Democrats forced a Senate vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act in May. It failed 49-51 (Senator Joe Manchin opposed it because he felt it was more radical than simply codifying an abortion right).

Republican Sens Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said they support codifying a woman’s right to choose, but their support is not enough to reach 60.

Collins said in a statement Friday that she was working with Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., on bipartisan legislation to codify Roe.

“Our goal with this legislation is to do what the Court should have done — bring consistency to our abortion laws that Americans have relied on for 50 years,” she said.

If that effort fails to gain traction, what about abortion-rights supporters? Heading into the 2022 election. That’s why Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and others on Friday called on Americans to go to the polls in November.

ABC News

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