A bill to protect abortion rights failed – what’s next?

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) walks after a vote on the Women's Health Protection Act, at the Hart Senate Office Building on May 11, 2022 in Washington, DC. Manchin voted against his party on the measure and it failed.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) walks after a vote on the Women's Health Protection Act, at the Hart Senate Office Building on May 11, 2022 in Washington, DC. Manchin voted against his party on the measure and it failed. Photo credit (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

“Today’s vote was just one step,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) Wednesday after a vote to codify federal abortion protections currently covered by the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling failed.

Pro-choice activists and lawmakers have been scrambling to protect the right to abortions since a draft majority opinion from the court that would overturn Roe leaked May 2. Though the opinion was just a draft, a final version of it could be announced this summer.

If the draft version is the final version of the decision, then 26 states could move to ban abortion.

Now that the vote to codify the right to an abortion into law has failed, what are the next steps for the pro-choice movement that Schumer alluded to?

Rally together

People interested in fighting to protect U.S. abortion rights can join the NARAL Pro-Choice America “Bans Off Our Bodies” virtual rally this Saturday.

“Abortion is still legal but our right to determine if, when, and how to raise a family is in unprecedented jeopardy,” said an event description. “The shocking leak of a draft majority opinion in the Jackson Women’s Health case is the most alarming and ominous sign yet of what's to come for the future of abortion rights and access in the United States.”

In addition to NARAL Pro-Choice America – a pro-choice non-profit advocacy group – non-profit healthcare organization Planned Parenthood is promoting the event.

“Want to take action but not sure what to do to defend our right to abortion? Join us for a nationwide rally,” said the group in a tweet.

Along with the virtual rally, people can participate in in-person events across the U.S. Saturday or sign a petition on the Planned Parenthood Bans off Our Bodies page.

“It’s time to mobilize like never before and send a clear message to anti-choice politicians: We are the reproductive freedom majority, and we won’t back down,” said NARAL Pro-Choice America, which hopes the rally will send a “strong message” to lawmakers that people support abortion access.

According to a recent CNN poll, 66% of Americans would not like to see Roe v. Wade overturned.

Give Congress a makeover

Although most Americans support maintaining abortion access, the majority of U.S. Congress members didn’t vote in favor of protecting it by passing the Women’s Health Protection Act.

All 50 Republicans voted against the bill to “protect a person’s ability to determine whether to continue or end a pregnancy, and to protect a health care provider’s ability to provide abortion services,” Wednesday, as did Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Manchin has been a block for Democrat initiatives, including President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan, since he assumed office last February.
According to Fox News, Manchin voted against the Women’s Health Protection Act because he thought it “expands abortion,” and that he would have supported a bill that just codified Roe v. Wade.

Though Democrats hold a slight majority in the Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris, Manchin’s vote left just 49 in favor of protecting the right to abortion, below the 60 vote threshold it needed to pass.

“Republican senators have once again ignored the will of the majority of Americans, blocking the Women’s Health Protection Act,” said a NARAL Pro-Choice donation page. “If they won't protect our rights, we are coming for their seats this November.”

A total of 469 seats in the U.S. Congress are up for election in November, including 14 seats held by Democrats and 20 held by Republicans in the Senate, as well as 221 sets held by Democrats and 208 seats held by Republicans in the House of Representatives.

Traditionally, the party of a sitting president does not do well during the midterm elections, according to Five Thirty-Eight. With issues such as high gas prices and inflation pressing on Americans under Biden, 49% of people who responded to the CNN poll between May 3 and May 5 said they would vote for Republican candidates, compared to 42% who said they would vote for Democrat candidates.

Secure access at the state level

Even if Democrats are able to gain a greater majority in Congress in the midterm elections, the Supreme Court decision is set expected to be announced before those elections are held. It would give states the authority to decide abortion laws.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Wednesday that the pro-choice movement must “prevent radical right-wing state legislatures from enacting extreme bills that deny abortion rights.”

A total of 36 gubernatorial seats are up for election in November, including 22 seats currently held by Democrats and 28 held by Republicans. Additionally, 88 of the country’s 99 state legislative chambers will hold elections.
As of Thursday, Republicans controlled approximately 54% of all state legislative seats nationally, while Democrats held approximately 44%.