U.S. House passes abortion rights bill, outlook poor in Senate

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation on Friday to protect abortion services against growing Republican-backed state restrictions, including a Texas law that imposes a near-total ban on abortion, but it is unlikely to pass the Senate.

The Democratic-controlled House voted 218-211 largely along party lines to pass the legislation called the Women’s Health Protection Act. Just one Democrat, Representative Henry Cuellar of Texas, voted against the proposal.

The bill would protect abortion services and pre-empt many restrictions Republicans have passed at the state level, such as those requiring ultrasounds or other tests.

It is not expected to pass the evenly divided Senate, where Democrats would need at least 10 Republicans to support it. Republican Senator Susan Collins, a moderate who supports abortion rights, has said she opposes it. She said the House bill would weaken exceptions provided to healthcare providers who refused to perform abortions on moral or religious grounds.

But the House vote provides an opportunity for Democrats to demonstrate their support for abortion rights ahead of the 2022 congressional elections, which will determine which party controls Congress in the second half of President Joe Biden’s presidential term.

“It is time to trust women, to respect their decisions,” Democratic Representative Rosa DeLauro said during House debate.

The legislation follows enactment of a Texas law that effectively bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, before many women realize they are pregnant. Abortion providers expect other Republican-led states to pass similar measures if courts allow the Texas law to remain in place.

The U.S. Supreme Court, which has a strong conservative tilt, also is considering a restrictive Mississippi law, heightening Democrats’ fears that the high court could overturn Roe v. Wade.

Most Republican lawmakers oppose abortion and party activists have long urged the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“Our nation should be investing in women’s health care and the health care of unborn babies,” Republican Representative Gus Bilirakis said during floor debate. “This bill does the opposite.”

On Thursday, abortion providers in Texas asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their challenge of the law, which enables private citizens to sue anyone who assists in an abortion after the six-week cutoff. The high court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, refused to block the law earlier this month.

A mid-June Reuters/Ipsos survey found that 52% of adults said abortion should be legal in “most” or “all” cases, while 36% said it should be illegal. (Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Aurora Ellis; Editing by David Gregorio)

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