Chuck Schumer, leader of the Democratic majority in the United States Senate, does not share the old idea of Ortega y Gasset that “all useless effort leads to melancholy.” Moreover, he does not consider it a useless effort to have submitted to a vote in the upper house on Wednesday an initiative that he knew was doomed to failure and that aspired to convert the right to abortion into a federal law. His party, which has 50 of the 100 seats, was far from the 60 that are necessary by virtue of the tradition of filibusterism, which requires qualified majorities for issues of this magnitude. But still he put both parties to the vote. And he didn’t even get everyone’s support: Joe Manchin spoke against it, leaving the score at 49-51.
That, too, was not a surprise: They are already accustomed on Capitol Hill to the loose verse of Manchin, a representative from West Virginia, who has torpedoed some of the star initiatives on President Joe Biden’s agenda in his first 15 months in the White House. For Schumer (New York), the important thing was that the senators portray themselves before the imminent repeal, by the Supreme Court, of the sentence Roe against Wade, that constitutionally enshrined this right of women half a century ago. This is how he made it known at the beginning of the session, which has taken place in slow motion (and half-empty, with members leaving and entering to vote): “It is time for Republicans to stop hiding their views on the issue” . Mitch McConnell (Kentucky Senator and Republican Minority Leader, criticized, with his characteristically deadpan expression, a “radical” bill and that Democrats “have allowed fringe activism to take them away from where the concerns of the Americans”.
Schumer decided to act quickly when on Monday, May 2, he learned, thanks to an unprecedented leak on the web Politico, that five of the nine conservative justices were willing to vote in favor of overturning a 1973 ruling, surely the most famous in the history of the high court. His reaction was to provoke a vote on the Law for the Protection of Women’s Health, which was already studied in the House in February. Abortion is perhaps the issue that confronts Americans the most, and the Democrats want voters (and especially women voters) to know exactly how their politicians think now that the legislative elections that in November will serve to renew the entirety of the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate. The Democratic prospects for that election appointment are not good.
What leaked in Politico it is a draft of the Supreme Court, drawn up in February to reflect the majority opinion of the judges. As published on Tuesday by the same website, the one known last week is the only text that the judicial body has produced on the case that pits the Dobbs clinic, in Jackson, against the State of Mississippi, which enacted a law that cuts the limit for the legal interruption of pregnancy of the 23 weeks established by Roe against Wade, up to 15 weeks. The arguments and the wording of the text could change until the Supreme Court rules definitively in June or early July, but it seems very unlikely that the result will be anything other than what was expected. The ruling would have the immediate consequence that the ability to legislate on the matter would return to the States. When that happens, 26 of the 50 territories that make up the country are expected to take measures that severely restrict or ban abortion.
The initiative that was put to the vote on Wednesday, in the presence of Vice President Kamala Harris, which underlines the support of the White House, goes much further than the precedent of Roe. The law would prohibit some of the conditions imposed in recent years by some states. In practice, they hinder American women’s access to their rights, and include the practice of mandatory ultrasounds, waiting periods between the consultation and the surgical intervention, or strong requirements that providers of abortion services have to comply with.
Since February, the Democrats have adapted the text. They have removed passages referring to abortion restrictions as “a tool of gender oppression” or referring to “everyone capable of becoming pregnant,” which included transgender men and non-binary people. The intention was to court some of the Republicans more inclined to his position. These are basically two: Senators Susan Collins, from Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, from Alaska. There are also Democrats who don’t blindly support the law, like Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey, who announced Tuesday that he would vote for the law (and did), and Manchin, who voted against it.
Collins and Murkowski have introduced their own bill, which seeks to “codify Roe against Wade.” It is a text entitled Law of Reproductive Choice, of only three pages, which prevents States from imposing “undue burdens” on the ability to terminate pregnancy before fetal viability, a limit that is set at around 24 weeks. This provision was already contemplated in the sentence Planned Parenthood contra Casey, 1992 high court ruling that reaffirmed the constitutional right to abortion established by Roe. Like this, he is about to succumb to the most conservative Supreme Court deck in eight decades.
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