Joe Manchin Opposes WHPA; Vote Fails

By Terrance Turner

May 11, 2022

Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) says he will vote no on a proposed bill by Senate Democrats that would codify Roe v. Wade into law. The Senate is set to vote today on the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would codify Roe and ensure abortion rights nationwide. Senate Democrats don’t have enough votes to meet the 60-vote threshold and overcome a filibuster, but Manchin’s decision ensures that the bill will not even muster the support of a simple majority.

Manchin (who voted against a similar bill in February and doomed President Biden’s “Build Back Better” bill after delaying passage of Democrats’ infrastructure bill) met with reporters to voice his objections. “We’re going to have a piece of legislation in front of us that is not what I was hoping for, or what I expected,” Mr. Manchin said today, according to the New York Times. He said he could not support the bill being proposed because it “wipes 500 state laws off the books, it expands abortion. With that, that’s not where we are today.” 

“I would vote for Roe v. Wade codification if it was today,” Manchin told reporters this morning. “I was hopeful for that. But I found out yesterday in caucus that wasn’t going to be.” Manchin said he has been “pro-life all my life’ and claimed the bill expands abortion. “They’re trying to make people believe that this is the same thing as codifying Roe v. Wade. And I want you to know, it’s not. This is not the same. It expands abortion,” Manchin said on Wednesday.

The move comes as Democrats are scrambling to protect abortion rights in light of a leaked Supreme Court opinion that threatens to upend them. Last week, an initial draft of a majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito was circulated inside the court and obtained by POLITICO. The draft indicates that the Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 law that ensured a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy.

Alito’s majority opinion (he was joined by Justices Thomas, Kavanaugh, Barrett, and Gorsuch) noted that when Roe was decided, 30 states still outlawed abortion at all stages — a state of affairs halted entirely by Roe, which ensured a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy in the first trimester. He declared that the decision ”was egregiously wrong from the start” and must be overturned.

“We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled. The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision. Including the one on which the defenders of Roe and Casey now chiefly rely — the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. That provision has been held to guarantee some rights that are not mentioned in the Constitution, but any such right must be “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition” and implicit in the concept of ordered liberty” […] The right to abortion does not fall within this category.”

The leak sent shockwaves throughout the country, galvanizing Democrats and enraging pro-choice activists. Democrats in the Senate reacted by scheduling a vote that would get every senator on the record. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced last week the Senate would vote to proceed with the bill, called the Women’s Health Protection Act.

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According to Vox, ”The Women’s Health Protection Act would enshrine into federal law the right to access and perform an abortion, and it would supersede state laws on the issue. It would effectively neutralize laws in 19 states that have sought to severely curb access to abortion or ban it altogether.

Specifically, the act would bar six-week and 20-week bans on abortions. It would also prohibit policies, like ultrasound requirements and waiting periods, that attempt to make it more burdensome to obtain an abortion.’ (The bill also prevents governments from being able to require that a patient make “medically unnecessary in-person visits” before an abortion, and would also prevent the government from requiring patients to disclose why they are seeking an abortion, per the Guardian.)

The Dallas Morning News notes that while the bill doesn’t legalize abortion through all nine months of pregnancy, it does say that no state may enact “a prohibition on abortion at any point or points in time prior to fetal viability.” That’s the standard set in Roe, the 1973 case from Dallas County in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Texas law criminalizing abortion and recognized women’s right to terminate a pregnancy until the fetus is viable outside the womb. That’s about 22 to 24 weeks into a pregnancy.

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Vox states: “The legislation’s text makes it clear that it’s a direct response to what the bill’s sponsors say are more than 500 state and local laws limiting abortion access in some way since 2011. Such restrictions have disproportionately harmed low-income people — particularly Black and Hispanic people — who are already less likely to have health care coverage for abortions, and who face more obstacles accessing alternative options if their states erect barriers.”

U.S. Census Bureau information analyzed by The Associated Press shows fewer Black and Hispanic women have health insurance, especially in states with tight abortion restrictions. For example, in Texas, Mississippi and Georgia, at least 16% of Black women and 36% of Latinas were uninsured in 2019, some of the highest such rates in the country.

In Mississippi, people of color comprise 44% of the population but 80% of women receiving abortions, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, which tracks health statistics. In Texas, they make up 59% of the population and 74% of those receiving abortions. If abortions are outlawed, those same women — often poor — will likely have the hardest time traveling to distant parts of the country to terminate pregnancies or raising children they might struggle to afford

Problems are compounded in states without effective education programs about reproduction. Mississippi law says sex education in public schools must emphasize abstinence to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Discussion of abortion is forbidden, and instructors may not demonstrate how to use condoms or other contraception.

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“Abortion restrictions are racist,” said Cathy Torres, a 25-year-old organizing manager with Frontera Fund, a Texas organization that helps women pay for abortions. “They directly impact people of color, Black, brown, Indigenous people … people who are trying to make ends meet.” Where she lives, near the U.S.-Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley, women are forced to travel to obtain abortions and must pass in-state border patrol checkpoints where they have to disclose their citizenship status, she said.

Regardless of what legislators say, Torres insisted, the intent is to target women of color, to control their bodies: “They know who these restrictions are going to affect. They know that, but they don’t care.”

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It’s evident from today’s vote that Republicans (and Manchin) don’t care. Nor do they seem to know (or care) about the potential consequences for victims. Should Roe be overturned, thirteen states would automatically enact “trigger laws” that would make abortion illegal immediately. Of those states, eight of them — Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas — contain no exceptions for rape or incest.

Senator Schumer alluded to that fact in his remarks after the vote: “Elect more pro-choice Democrats,” he said, if you want to protect reproductive rights. “The contrast is pretty obvious,” he added. “Elect more MAGA Republicans if you want no exception for rape or incest” and a nationwide abortion ban.

Vice President Kamala Harris commented after the vote: “The majority of the American people believe in defending a woman’s right — her choice — to decide what happens to her own body, and this vote clearly suggests that the Senate is not where the majority of Americans are on this issue. It also makes clear, that a priority for all those who care about this issue, the priority should be to elect pro-choice leaders at the local, state and feaderal level. Because what we are seeing around this country is extremist Republican leaders who are seeking to criminalize and punish women for making decisions about their own bod[ies].”

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