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Senators unveil bipartisan abortion access bill; measure unlikely to pass

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A bipartisan group of senators unveiled compromise legislation to secure federal access to abortion, an effort to codify abortion after the Supreme Court overturned it Roe v. Wade. He faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where he is unlikely to get enough Republican support.

The legislation, co-authored by Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine (Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona) and Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), is an attempt to create common ground on an issue that largely pits anti-abortion Republicans against pro-abortion Democrats.

Since the Supreme Court decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in June, 17 states have either outlawed or prohibited abortion. A handful of other states are in the process of banning abortion, and on Tuesday Kansas will be the first state voters are expected to head to the polls to determine whether the state will overturn the constitutional right to abortion.

Compromise legislation unveiled Monday guarantees federal abortion rights until viability and allows abortion after viability when the mother’s health is at risk. The law does not specify which week is viability or what constitutes when a mother’s health is at risk. Both questions must be defined by the doctor treating the pregnant person.

“It clearly uses viability as a key distinction,” Kaine said. “Pre-viability women should have a lot of freedom – a state can regulate but cannot impose an undue burden. After viability, the state can regulate much more, but can never prevent a woman from accessing an abortion for her life and health.

The measure comes after Senate Democrats attempted to pass partisan legislation that would codify Roe. The May vote, after a leaked Supreme Court draft ruling, failed, gaining the support of 49 Democrats. A Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin III (DW.Va.) and all Republicans voted against, including Collins and Murkowksi because, they said, it went far beyond Roe’s codification.

Kaine admits, however, that the proposal unveiled Monday lacks the support of the 10 Republicans needed to pass the Senate. Still, he said it was an important marker in the conversation.

The bipartisan bill, called the Reproductive Freedom for All Act, also guarantees access to contraception, which abortion advocates fear may be banned in some conservative states or Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court ruling granting a personal right to contraception, would be overturned. The bill also includes a conscience clause, which allows a provider to opt out of abortion services if they violate a religious belief, an issue that was important to Collins.

“There is a majority in the United States Senate that wants to codify Roe vs. Wadeand give the impression that there is only a minority that wants to codify Roe vs. WadeI think that’s a weak position,” Kaine said in an interview Monday.

“For five decades, reproductive health decisions have been centered on the individual – we cannot go back in time by limiting women’s personal freedoms,” Murkowski said in a statement.

It is unclear whether Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) would introduce the bill for a vote before the midterm elections in November. There has been disagreement within the Democratic caucus over whether a bipartisan bill that has no chance of passing should be introduced, which would make it harder for Democratic candidates to contrast with the republicans. And many Democrats, Kaine said, would prefer the Democratic version of the bill, the Women’s Health Protection Act, which includes fewer restrictions on abortion.

Kaine calls the bill the bare minimum.

“What the four of us were trying to do was put in place a legal minimum that replicated what the law was the day before. Dobbs,” he said.

Recent poll by the Washington Post-Schar School found that a majority of respondents – 58% – supported abortion access until viability, including 77% Democrats and 59% Independents. However, only 34% of Republicans supported him.

Abortion rights groups are critical of the proposal, in part because it won’t pass the Senate due to the 60-vote threshold in that chamber.

“This bill is just another political stunt that would not truly solve the crisis of abortion rights and access that has already put care out of reach for millions of people,” said the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, Mini Timmaraju, in a statement. “Unless these senators are prepared to end the filibuster to pass this measure, there is no reason to take it seriously.”

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