Bipartisan abortion-rights bill sets up a midterm debate

“These basic rights need to be the same for American women regardless of the state in which they reside.”

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill on July 21 in Washington. Mariam Zuhaib / AP Photo

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of senators released a bill Monday that would create a federal baseline for abortion access, the first bipartisan legislative effort on the issue since the Supreme Court struck down the Roe v. Wade ruling that established abortion rights nationwide.


The legislation has little chance of advancing in the evenly divided Senate, where it lacks the 60 votes that would be needed move forward. Instead, the bill — a joint effort of Democrats Tim Kaine of Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona and Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — is a way for members of both parties to frame the stakes of the issue before the midterm congressional elections. Recent public polls have shown some voters are alarmed about the erosion of abortion rights.


In the weeks following the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that struck down the nearly 50-year-old Roe precedent, Democrats have introduced a flurry of legislation aiming to reinstate abortion rights nationwide and counteract bans in several states.

They have also attempted to enact federal protections for contraceptive rights and same-sex marriage equality in a direct response to a concurring opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas in Dobbs that explicitly said those precedents should also be reconsidered.

The bill introduced Monday would invalidate state-level abortion bans and the toughest abortion restrictions, while guaranteeing access to contraception. It faces nearly insurmountable odds in the 50-50 Senate, where at least 10 Republicans would be needed to move it past a filibuster.

Republicans in May blocked a far more sweeping bill that would invalidate nearly all abortion restrictions nationwide. The outcome was preordained, but Democrats opted to hold the vote anyway in an effort to draw a distinction with Republicans on the issue in anticipation of the midterm elections.

More than 60% of Americans believe abortions should be legal in all or most cases, according to a Pew Research Center poll from June.

After Roe was struck down, abortion bans went into effect in several states. Some Republicans in Congress who support abortion rights have also moved quickly to distance themselves from such measures.


“The Supreme Court’s recent abandonment of long-standing precedent erodes the reproductive rights on which women have relied for half a century,” Collins said in a statement. “These basic rights need to be the same for American women regardless of the state in which they reside.”

The bill introduced Monday would prohibit any state regulation that imposes an undue burden on a woman’s access to abortions before the fetus can survive outside the womb, while still allowing states to enact restrictions on post-viability abortions, except when they are necessary to protect the life and health of the mother.

Kaine, who has been leading the charge for the legislation, said he began working on it after Republicans blocked the broader abortion access measure, which not only failed to muster the 60 votes it would have needed to advance, but also fell short of a simple majority in the Senate.

Negotiations on the narrower bill focused on who determined the point at which a fetus can survive outside the womb, Kaine said. Ultimately, the bipartisan group decided it should be up to women and their health care practitioners to decide.

He said he hoped the legislation “shows that there’s a majority that wants to codify Roe, and that includes some bipartisanship.”


Some Democrats may prefer the more sweeping bill, he added, but, “this is better than the status quo.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com