US Senate's vote on radical abortion bill: Here's what to know

Pregnant_Credit_Unsplash_CNA.jpg Credit: Unsplash.

The U.S. Senate voted Wednesday against moving forward with what pro-life leaders described as “The Abortion on Demand Until Birth Act.” 

The Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022 (WHPA), which needed 60 votes to move forward, failed in the Senate with 51 lawmakers voting against it and 49 voting for it. The vote fell along party lines, except for one Democrat who voted against the bill: Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who is Catholic and has previously identified himself as pro-life. If approved, the bill would override states’ pro-life laws and remove restrictions on abortion up to the point of birth in some cases.

The intent of the WHPA, or S.4132, is to “enshrine a virtually unlimited abortion ‘right’ in federal law and block common ground pro-life laws around the country,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List), has warned.

The May 11 vote was Democrats’ response to a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that suggests justices will overturn Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide in 1973.

“[F]or the first time in fifty years, women in America face the real possibility of living in a world where the protections of Roe v. Wade are a thing of the past,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “And there will be no hiding from where each of us stands on this most precious, most private, most personal decision that women ever have to make when it comes to their own bodies.”

An almost identical version of the WHPA failed in the Senate in February. That vote also fell along party lines, with only one Democrat (Manchin) voting against proceeding. No Republican voted in support of the WHPA. 

“It would impose abortion up until the moment of birth without any limits in all 50 states,” Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, the founder and chair of the Senate Pro-Life Caucus, said on the floor Tuesday. “In a nutshell, this radical bill would make the United States of America one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a preborn child.”

Daines, who previously spoke with CNA about Democrats’ response to the leaked draft opinion, cited a saint — Mother Teresa of Calcutta — during his Tuesday remarks.

At the 1994 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., Mother Teresa urged, “I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of an innocent child.” 

She added: “Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.”

What is the WHPA?

If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade later this year, as the leaked draft opinion suggests, then abortion could be left up to individual states. The WHPA threatens pro-life state laws.

The act’s text lists a series of specific restrictions it would do away with, on everything from limitations on telemedicine to restrictions around viability, which the act defines as the point when a fetus can survive outside the womb — determined by “the good-faith medical judgment of the treating health care provider.”

The WHPA would forbid any kind of limit on abortion before fetal viability, including “a prohibition or restriction on a particular abortion procedure.” After viability, the WHPA would outlaw limits on abortion “when, in the good-faith medical judgment of the treating health care provider, continuation of the pregnancy would pose a risk to the pregnant patient’s life or health.”

National pro-life groups, such as SBA List, have expressed concern over this section because the Supreme Court, in Doe v. Bolton, broadly defined what “may relate to health,” including “all factors — physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age — relevant to the wellbeing of the patient.”

In the past, SBA List has warned that the WHPA would also “nullify pro-life laws in states across the country, including late-term abortion limits when unborn children can feel pain, waiting periods, informed consent laws, antidiscrimination laws, and more.”

The Catholic position

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In February, 13 Catholic senators, including Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), voted in favor of the WHPA. Wednesday's vote produced the same outcome.

President Joe Biden, who also is Catholic, and his administration have repeatedly expressed support for the WHPA.

The Catholic Church condemns abortion in the strongest possible terms.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which summarizes Church teaching, recognizes the inherent dignity and worth of the unborn human person and considers abortion a “crime against human life.” 

“Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception,” the catechism reads. “From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.”

In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Pope St. John Paul II addressed abortion in light of politics.

“I repeat once more that a law which violates an innocent person's natural right to life is unjust and, as such, is not valid as a law,” he wrote. “For this reason I urgently appeal once more to all political leaders not to pass laws which, by disregarding the dignity of the person, undermine the very fabric of society.”

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The “Church encourages political leaders, starting with those who are Christians, not to give in, but to make those choices which, taking into account what is realistically attainable, will lead to the re- establishment of a just order in the defence and promotion of the value of life,” he added.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith later explained the late pontiff’s teaching in a doctrinal note on “The Participation of Catholics in Political Life.”

“John Paul II, continuing the constant teaching of the Church, has reiterated many times that those who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life,” it read. “For them, as for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them.”

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