Why Democrats won’t be able to codify Roe into law

Claud Mccoid
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Good morning — and TGIF.

Today’s edition: The FDA is limiting the use of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine due to rare blood clots. In Louisiana, a bill to charge abortion as homicide gained traction in committee. But first …

Democrats will vote next week on codifying Roe, but the effort is doomed to fail

Senate Democratic leaders pledged to hold a vote next week to codify the right to an abortion into federal law.

That effort will surely fail. 

But to Democrats, the largely symbolic vote has significance. In the wake of the leaked Supreme Court draft, the party wants to put senators on record and use lawmakers’ positions to galvanize the base — even though a similar vote was held a few months back.

  • “Where do people stand? Why is this important?” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said in an interview. “Because this clearly is going to be about people making a choice in a few months about who’s representing them and speaking for them. And we have to have a pro-choice Senate and a pro-choice House if we want to protect women’s rights.”

Here’s why the measure is likely doomed: Under Senate procedure, it would need the support of 10 Republicans. Yet, the Republican senator most likely to vote for the bill — Susan Collins (Maine) — voted against the legislation in February and said yesterday that her position remains unchanged. Democrats could try to get rid of the filibuster, but that could be dangerous terrain for the party. And even if they did, they may not have the votes to codify Roe v. Wade.

The upcoming vote comes as a leaked draft decision overturning Roe’s decades-old protections has quickly upended the political landscape. Republicans are still searching for the right message, while Democrats express outrage at the possibility the procedure could be restricted in roughly half of states in the span of a few weeks.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.):

Collins’s opposition comes down to her view that the legislation doesn’t provide sufficient protection to antiabortion health providers, my colleagues Felicia Sonmez and Mike DeBonis report. 

“It doesn’t protect the right of a Catholic hospital to not perform abortions,” she said. “That right has been enshrined in law for a long time.” 

Without naming Collins, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) pushed back against the rationale in a news conference announcing next week’s vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act. 

  • “Some are saying that this legislation would tell hospitals — certain religious hospitals — that they have to perform abortions,” he said yesterday. “That is simply not true. This bill simply gives providers the statutory right to provide abortion care without medically unnecessary restrictions. That’s plain and simple. So this rumor is false.”

Also of note: There have been some tweaks to the bill since February, though the substance of the legislation remains intact. The legislation — authored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) — had a portion dedicated to legislative fact-finding, some of which included politically divisive language. But that section of the text was stripped out.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.):

Some Democratic lawmakers began calling for the elimination of the filibuster soon after Politico published the leaked draft. 

But doing so in this instance doesn’t seem particularly likely. 

For one, Democrats probably don’t have the votes to change the filibuster for abortion. As my colleague Amber Phillips notes, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) blocked Democrats’ efforts to eliminate the rule for voting rights legislation earlier this year. And it doesn’t seem as if they’ve changed their mind to upend the rule requiring 60 votes to pass most legislation. 

Even if Democrats did change the rule, they may not have the votes to pass the bill codifying Roe with a simple majority. Manchin, along with all of the chamber’s Republicans, opposed the bill when the Senate voted on it in February. 

  • Yesterday, Manchin was mum on his stance on the modified version of the bill. “I’m looking at everything,” he told reporters, per Felicia and Mike. “You know, we have to bring the country back together, okay? We just got to come back together.”

And one more thing. A change in the filibuster rules for abortion legislation could backfire on Democrats. If Republicans take the Senate majority in the November midterms, they could then use the move to their advantage and work to pass a nationwide ban on abortion.

Schumer was asked whether the party would seek to change the filibuster rules for the legislation protecting access to abortions. He didn’t say one way or the other. “We’re having the vote next week,” he said. “We’re going to see where everyone stands.”

Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) on May 5 said the Senate would vote on legislation to codify abortion rights but would not outline procedural steps. (Video: The Washington Post)

FDA limits use of J&J vaccine due to rare blood clots

The Food and Drug Administration is limiting the use of Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine, saying the risk of a rare and life-threatening blood clot outweighs the benefits of the shot for most people, The Post’s Laurie McGinley and Carolyn Y. Johnson report. 

Who can get the shot now? The agency said only those who are unable to get other vaccines because they’re not accessible or clinically appropriate, or those who refused to get a different vaccine, should get immunized with J&J.

The vaccine has been associated with a potentially deadly blood clotting and bleeding syndrome. But those who were previously vaccinated don’t need to worry because the condition usually occurs within one to two weeks of vaccination. There have been 60 confirmed cases, including nine resulting in death, according to an updated analysis of safety data through March 18.

The news is another setback for the J&J shot, which was once viewed as a game changer, since it’s the only covid-19 vaccine where the initial regimen was one shot. Administration of the vaccine was briefly paused last year, and afterward, manufacturing and supply problems slowed its rollout.

There were nearly 15 million deaths related to covid-19, WHO says

The pandemic has led to nearly 15 million excess deaths across the globe, according to a new estimate by the World Health Organization. The figure includes those who died of covid-19 and others who died from other causes related to the pandemic, such as health-care shortages when the virus surged, The Post’s Katie Shepherd and Niha Masih write. 

The WHO’s definition of excess deaths: “The difference between the number of deaths that have occurred and the number that would be expected in the absence of the pandemic based on data from earlier years.”

A large share of the excess deaths were concentrated in Southeast Asia, Europe and the Americas. More than two-thirds occurred in 10 countries, including the United States. This comes as the U.S. is nearing 1 million deaths from the coronavirus — a figure that doesn’t include those who died because they couldn’t access treatment.

Why excess deaths matter: The figures help experts and politicians get a better snapshot of the pandemic’s toll since it counts those who died because they didn’t get treatment for acute emergencies, chronic illnesses or behavioral health conditions exacerbated by the pandemic. 

Look to Louisiana Republicans for the latest antiabortion legislation

A Louisiana House committee advanced a bill this week to classify abortion as homicide and allow prosecutors to criminally charge patients, my colleague Caroline Kitchener reports.

The bill is a new twist on antiabortion legislation, going one step further than Republicans have gone in the past. They’ve generally been reticent to punish patients, instead focusing on abortion providers and others who help facilitate the procedure. Experts say the bill could potentially restrict in vitro fertilization and emergency contraception since it would grant constitutional rights to a person “from the moment of fertilization.”

Those who spoke in support of the bill appeared energized, with one advocate who helped draft the legislation specifically citing the leaked draft decision overturning Roe

The legislation would need to pass the full Republican-led House and Senate, before then heading to the desk of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, who has supported antiabortion legislation in the past. 

  • “For legislators in the movement, their agenda is to stop abortion,” said Mary Ziegler, a visiting professor at Harvard Law School specializing in the history of abortion law. “When there is a conflict between punishing pregnant people and stopping abortion, it’s clear what they’re going to do.”

Meanwhile … Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department would “address appropriate next steps” if the abortion law changes. 

He said the department has “steadfastly been committed to defending the right to abortion,” and reminded reporters that the leaked draft isn’t final. Yet, it wasn’t immediately clear what actions the Justice Department could take to ensure women still have access to abortions, our Post Politics Now colleagues write. 

Thanks for reading! See y’all Monday.

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