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Manchin, Capito United Against Abortion Bill

LEFT: Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., arrives at the chamber Wednesday before a procedural vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act to codify the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide at the Capitol in Washington. RIGHT: Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., questions Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on expanding broadband access on Feb. 1 at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photos)

CHARLESTON – U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito agreed that a bill they voted against Wednesday went far beyond simply codifying current protections for abortion put in place by a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that could be overturned soon.

The Senate voted against the Women’s Health Protection Act in a 49-51 vote with Manchin, D-W.Va., joining all 50 Republicans in opposing the bill.

Supporters of the bill claim it codified Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that affirmed a woman’s right to abortion procedures. But opponents, such as Manchin, said the bill went beyond that and would allow unfettered access to abortion at all stages of a pregnancy with no restrictions, including up to birth. Manchin voiced his opposition to the press before Wednesday’s vote.

“I respect people who support it, but make no mistake: it is not Roe v. Wade codification. It’s an expansion,” Manchin said. “It wipes 500 state laws off the books. It expands abortion. That’s not where we are today. We cannot be dividing this country further than we’re already divided. It’s really the politics of Congress that is dividing the country; it’s not the people. They’re telling us what they want.”

Capito, R-W.Va., spoke with West Virginia reporters Thursday from her office on Capitol Hill. Capito said the Women’s Health Protection Act lifted federal restrictions on abortion funding and prohibited exemptions for faith-based conscience protections.

“The vote was not about putting Roe v. Wade into law,” Capito said. “It was about very expansive abortion at any time of the period of the pregnancy and other things. So I voted no. It failed as predicted.”

Manchin told reporters he would be supportive of a bill that codifies the abortion protections of Roe v. Wade without interfering with state laws already on the books that restrict certain abortion procedures. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, are crafting such a bill, though Capito was reluctant to express support until she saw the bill.

“In terms of what might come up in terms of a more narrow focus than (the Women’s Health Protection Act), I’d have to wait and see before I could weigh in on that, so I’ll reserve comment on that,” Capito said.

President Joe Biden, in a statement released Wednesday, attacked Senate Republicans for standing in the way of the Women’s Health Protection Act. He called on voters to elect more pro-choice lawmakers to the Senate and House of Representatives.

“Once again, as fundamental rights are at risk at the Supreme Court, Senate Republicans have blocked passage of the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill that affirmatively protects access to reproductive health care,” Biden said. “Republicans in Congress, not one of whom voted for this bill, have chosen to stand in the way of Americans’ rights to make the most personal decisions about their own bodies, families and lives.”

A similar version of the Women’s Health Protection Act failed in February, but the most recent push for the bill came after Politico last week obtained a copy of a draft decision written in February by Justice Samuel Alito in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case the high court heard in December dealing with a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks.

According to the draft majority opinion, which is not the final word or where a majority of justices might stand as of today, Alito wrote two previous landmark Supreme Court decisions, 1973’s Roe v. Wade and 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey, should be struck down.

“We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled,” Alito wrote. “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”

A decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization could be released in June. But pro-abortion groups have been going to the homes of the more conservative justices on the Supreme Court to protest and put pressure on the justices pending a decision. Capito said any discussions on legislative fixes should wait until the final decision is released, then leave it up to the states to address it.

“I think what we should do is wait and see what the Supreme Court actually does do in their judgment,” Capito said. “If they push it back to the states, then our states will have plenty of time to deal with this issue. And many of them have already dealt with it. I do believe that the states are well equipped in the democratic process to deal with this very, very sensitive issue.”

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