Senators Introduce Long-Shot Bipartisan Effort To Protect Some Abortion Access

In an attempt to find some middle ground, a group of senators from both parties introduced a long-shot bill Monday that would prohibit states from banning abortion before a fetus is viable.

The legislation was co-authored by two Democratic senators, Virginia’s Tim Kaine and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, along with two Republican senators, Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski. It comes in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which has allowed more than a dozen states to outlaw or severely restrict abortion access.

The bill unveiled Monday would allow states to ban abortion only after a physician determines that the fetus could survive outside the womb, which typically happens at around 24 weeks of pregnancy. In lieu of enforcing a firm cutoff date, the bill would task a patient’s health care provider with making a determination about fetal viability.

For now, the effort is more symbolic than anything else.

“My colleagues and I have introduced this bipartisan bill today demonstrating that there’s now bipartisan support and majority support in the United States Senate to protect reproductive freedom for all,” Kaine said on the Senate floor Monday.

Passing the bill would require support from all Democrats and at least eight more Republicans ― something Kaine knows is easier said than done.

“I’m very well aware, as are my co-sponsors in introducing that bill, that we do not have the votes today, should it be put up, to get 60 votes in the Senate,” he said.

“And yet,” Kaine continued, “I am given some inspiration by the fact that we recently passed a gun safety bill, where two months before there were not 60 votes either,” referencing a bill the Senate passed last month to enact modest limits on obtaining firearms.

Bill co-sponsors Collins and Murkowski did not support a previous attempt in the Senate to codify Roe v. Wade’s abortion protections, nor did Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

A coalition of more than a dozen abortion rights groups responded to the legislation with disappointment, saying its text is not clear enough.

“This bill claims to ‘codify’ Roe v. Wade but fails to do so,” they wrote in a statement. “In fact, it does not expressly prohibit pre-viability abortion bans, leaving states able to continue to pass abortion bans that are denying people access to essential health care across the country. This bill has been written for a world that does not exist and would provide little solace in the nightmare we are living.”

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, pointed out that this new bill “does not prohibit the citizen-enforced bans which, even before the Dobbs decision, shut down the clinics in Oklahoma and limited Texas clinics to providing only up to six weeks of pregnancy.”

“What we need from the bill’s sponsors is a commitment to end the filibuster to pass abortion rights legislation that will meaningfully restore access to abortion throughout the nation,” she said in a statement, referring to the current Senate rules that allow Republicans to easily stop a bill from coming to a vote unless 60 senators vote to advance it.

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