AnalysisBreaking the Chains

Senate votes against legalizing abortion 46-48; struggle for full reproductive rights will continue until victory

Originally published by Breaking the Chains magazine.

On Feb. 28, the Senate voted on the Women’s Health Protection Act, defeating the bill in a 46-48 vote. The WHPA, a landmark bill that would have enshrined the right to abortion access throughout the United States, narrowly passed by the House of Representatives in Sept. 2021; on Feb. 17, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced he was bringing it to a vote in the Senate, where it appeared unlikely to pass. 

The Senate vote is disappointing but not surprising, as Senate Republicans and conservative Democrats continue to refuse to represent the interests of their constituencies. If politicians’ votes reflected the will of the people, WHPA would pass easily — 80% of Americans support access to abortion in all or most cases. 

The WHPA is long overdue as support for abortion access has been popular in America for a long time. Since 1975, support for legal access to abortion in all or most cases has not dipped below 79%. A federal law like the WHPA is necessary to make abortion accessible to all who need it across the country, regardless of what state you live in. In 2021 alone, 108 abortion restrictions were enacted across the country in various states. These abortion restrictions would be rendered illegal if the WHPA were made law. When Schumer announced he was bringing the bill to a vote in the Senate, organizations across the country mobilized emergency campaigns to petition for the passage of WHPA. The Party for Socialism and Liberation was one of the organizations that was heavily involved in agitating for public support for WHPA. 

Modern anti-abortion sentiments in the United States are the result of right-wing grassroots organizing that falsely conflate religious commitment or support for “life” with being anti-abortion. In reality, people of all creeds need and receive abortions every year. Republican politicians further amplify this false conflation to justify their support of cruel and inhumane abortion bans that place a tremendous burden on working-class and poor people who want reproductive autonomy. They claim to represent their constituencies, but this is inconsistent with reality. Even though state abortion restrictions have intensified in the Midwest and South, there has not been a substantial decrease in demands for abortion in these regions. There can be no doubt, by refusing to pass the WHPA, these Republicans are denying necessary healthcare to the communities they claim to represent. 

Liberation photo: Joyce Chediac

Of course, Democrats are not without blame for this loss. Despite having a majority in the Senate, the Democratic Party is incapable of reining in the two Senators who voted no: Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. Furthermore, the Democrats have still not gotten rid of the undemocratic filibuster, which results in legislation needing a supermajority of 60 votes to pass.

The people of the United States and the women’s movement face a pivotal choice: The courts now give more autonomy and rights to corporations than human beings, and the Senate has failed to provide protection for reproductive justice where the courts will not. What can be done in the face of the establishment’s apathy? 

The only answer is a militant women’s movement in the streets. The power is in the hands of the people; we will not stand by quietly as attacks on abortion proliferate across the states! With our votes, we can hold our legislators accountable — we should make clear that we will not vote for politicians who promise everything and accomplish nothing. 

But as always, it goes far beyond the ballot box. Our power is in our numbers; we, the working class, know exactly how important reproductive autonomy is, because we face the brunt of political failures to act on climate change, childcare, police brutality, and more. Reproductive justice is not just about the right to have an abortion, but about the right to have a child in a safe and just world. That world is only possible if we fight for it, and the fight is only beginning!

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