The Senate blocked a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, 51-46, Monday afternoon. But that wasn’t the point.
While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would have liked to see the bill pass he knew the bill wasn’t likely to get the 60 votes needed. Yet he brought up the bill anyway to make vulnerable Democrats take a position.
“This afternoon, every one of us will go on record on the issue,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Monday ahead of the vote. “I hope that our Democratic colleagues will not obstruct the Senate from taking up this bill.”
More than half of the Senate’s Democrats and independents are up for re-election this year; 10 of them are in states President Trump won and many of those have some version of the 20-week ban already passed at the state level.
“Vulnerable Democrats up for re-election this year like Sens. Claire McCaskill, Sherrod Brown, and Heidi Heitkamp, ought to vote in line with their constituents and support this compassionate bill,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, who is president of the anti-abortion advocacy organization Susan B. Anthony List said Monday morning. “Voting to keep the brutality of late-term abortion legal isn’t just morally abhorrent, it defies national consensus and is a major political liability.”
SBA List’s polling shows that a majority of voters in each of those states — Missouri, Ohio and North Dakota — would support a measure banning abortions after five months.
Despite the push, Heitkamp, Brown and McCaskill all voted against the bill.
Anti-abortion advocacy groups and Republicans were quick to highlight the votes Monday night.
“Senate Democrats, including Senators McCaskill, Tester, and Heitkamp, who are on the ballot in 2018, voted against this bill to protect unborn children,” said Faith & Freedom Coalition Executive Director Tim Head. Montana Sen. Jon Tester also voted against the bill and is up for re-election in a state Trump won.
Shortly after the vote, SBA List went up with digital ads against McCaskill, Brown, Tester and Heitkamp.
“Voters will remember which Senators failed to support this commonsense legislation and protect the lives of the unborn,” Katie Martin, spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in a statement immediately following the vote.
President Trump joined the chorus of criticism for Democrats. “We must defend those who cannot defend themselves,” he said in a statement released by the White House Monday night. “I urge the Senate to reconsider its decision and pass legislation that will celebrate, cherish, and protect life.”
The House — which can move legislation with Republican votes only — passed the measure last year largely along party lines, 237-189. The bill would allow for up to five years in prison for the person performing the abortion. The woman who received the abortion would not be prosecuted.
Legislation requires 60 votes to pass in the Senate and Republicans have a narrow 51-49 majority. Forty-six GOP senators were co-sponsors of the bill. GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski, both centrists, voted against the bill.
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly and Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, all moderate Democrats, voted for the legislation.
“While the country is waiting for us to come together and solve problems, Republicans are wasting precious time with a politically-motivated, partisan bill engineered to drive us apart — and hurt women,” Washington Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat, said on the Senate floor ahead of the vote.
Ilyse Hogue who is President of NARAL Pro-Choice America, a group that advocates for abortion rights told USA TODAY that the vote was not actually about getting Democrats on record, but rather, firing up the GOP base.
“I think that they actually know that it doesn’t put the squeeze on red state Democrats,” Hogue said. “I think that they are desperate to fire up their base to show that they tried to do something for the extreme anti-choice base going into the 2018 midterms.”