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U.S. House to vote on abortion bill, faces tough path in Senate

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By Reuters
U.S. House to vote on abortion bill, faces tough path in Senate
U.S. House to vote on abortion bill, faces tough path in Senate   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2021
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By Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON – The Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives plans to debate and vote on legislation aimed at stopping states from enacting tough anti-abortion regulations like the one in Texas, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday, but the bill’s prospects in the Senate were slim.

Declaring that the Texas statute “delivers catastrophe to women in Texas, particularly women of colour and women from low-income communities,” Pelosi said in a statement that a Democratic bill would be brought before the full House after Sept. 20, when its recess is scheduled to end.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters President Joe Biden will consult with lawmakers on legislation to protect women’s right to abortions. She said a range of approaches were under review, including the bill to be voted upon by the House.

It was unclear whether the Senate would bring up such a bill even if it is passed by the House, however. It would face a difficult path in the 100-member chamber, which is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, with Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris having the power to break tie votes.

Most legislation requires the support of at least 60 lawmakers to advance in the Senate. The House Democrats’ measure, the Women’s Health Protection Act, would likely struggle to get 10 votes among Republicans.

Most Republicans oppose abortion, one of the most divisive issues in the United States, and many have urged the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade, the landmark decision making it a woman’s constitutional right.

The Women’s Health Protection Act has been introduced in Congress multiple times since 2013 but never advanced in either the House or Senate.

The issue took on renewed urgency for Democrats after a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling late on Wednesday allowing a Texas law imposing a near-total ban on abortion to remain in force.

The bill aims to protect health care providers’ ability to deliver abortion services free from restrictions such as waiting periods, admitting privilege requirements for providers, or what supporters argue are unnecessary medical procedures, like ultrasounds, before an abortion can be performed.

The Texas law and the Supreme Court’s initial reaction to it could motivate Democratic voters to turn out in elections in November 2022, which Republicans are hoping will allow them to take control of the House and Senate.

With such a tenuous hold on the two chambers, a number of Democrats want to change the 60-vote “filibuster” rule in the Senate so that bills could advance now with a simple majority of 51 lawmakers.

“Democrats can either abolish the filibuster and expand the court, or do nothing as millions of peoples’ bodies, rights, and lives are sacrificed for far-right minority rule,” liberal Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter.

“This shouldn’t be a difficult decision,” she said.