With Roe overturned, Congress readies for a fight - and a defense

Rep. Mayra Flores, R-Texas, emphatically praised God, while Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., described the day as a defining moment for the “greatest human rights issue of our generation.” Rep. Julia Letlow, R-La., espoused the wonder of carrying a child: “Over those nine months is a sacred miracle - it is something you feel in every moment.”

Republican lawmakers were jubilant Friday, celebrating the 6-3 Supreme Court vote overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision establishing the constitutional right to abortion nearly 50 years ago. And as dozens of House Democrats marched across a fortified Capitol to the Supreme Court, chanting and holding signs advocating for abortion rights, some Republicans were already eyeing new abortion restrictions, making clear that the momentous decision was just the beginning for the antiabortion movement.

“We’re working on something along those lines,” Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., told reporters about plans to pass a nationwide ban on abortion. He added that he’s working to reintroduce his bill, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, that would ban most abortions after 20-weeks - and lower it to a 15-week ban.

Democrats now have few legislative options in a post-Roe landscape after a bill guaranteeing abortion access nationwide failed last month in the Senate, where Democrats hold a razor-thin majority. Even if all Democratic senators voted in support of the bill, Democrats would still have to eliminate the filibuster to guarantee passage of the right to an abortion with a simple majority - a rule change that Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., both oppose.

But there was no sign Friday of an appetite among Democrats to re-litigate various proposals that could change the filibuster rules to pass such a bill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was the lone Democratic leader to mention the issue ― and only in the context of electing two more Democrats to the Senate this fall to overcome Manchin and Sinema’s opposition.

“There is a plan, and that plan is to win the [midterm] election, hopefully to get two more senators so that we can change the obstacles to passing laws . . . for the good of our country,” Pelosi said Friday at a news conference.

Some Republican lawmakers have advocated deferring the issue of abortion restrictions to the states, but Friday’s decision could open the floodgates for an embrace of a national abortion ban as voters become increasingly polarized on the issue. Nearly a dozen House GOP lawmakers demurred when asked whether they supported plans to move to pass a nationwide ban on abortion - a reflection of the politically tenuous terrain the party faces as it weighs what comes next while Democratic interest in protecting abortion rights has ticked up ahead of November’s midterms.


Federal legislation is “something we’re going to have to talk about,” said Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, who represents a state where abortions have ceased after Friday’s ruling. “Of course, it’s been passed to the states - I’m a 10th Amendment guy, so let the states decide. But all these things we need to look at because life has been attacked by the liberal left for so long.”

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, refused to say whether there should exceptions for rape, incest or the health of the mother, or whether House Republicans should legislate on the issue.

“I’m not punting,” Roy said. “I just think right now we should recognize the ruling for what it is - putting Roe in its rightful place.”

And Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., a prominent antiabortion advocate who represents a state where nearly all abortion is now banned, said piecemeal legislation, such as her bill that bans abortions on the basis of sex, should be a priority for House Republicans if they take the majority in November.

But Smith, the chair of the Pro-Life Caucus, decisively stated the endgame for antiabortion advocates that others avoided clearly spelling out: passing more-restrictive federal abortion legislation before Democrats moved to invalidate restrictions at the state level.

“We’re at a crossroads,” Smith said. “We have to argue and persuade like we’ve never argued and persuaded before.”

All but conceding that any potential for change is now in the hands of their voters, Democrats immediately highlighted the possibility of a national ban and pointed to Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion as a road map of what other restrictions may come.

Thomas wrote that “in future cases,” the court “should reconsider” three landmark cases that protect the right to contraception, same-sex relations and same-sex marriage, arguing that the court has a “duty to correct the error.”

“They consider all of this free game,” said Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, assistant Democratic leader of the House. Asked whether House Democrats are considering codifying access to contraception into law, Clark replied that they are looking into “a lot of different things.”

Pelosi also issued a statement torching the decision, ending it with a call for Democrats to turn out at the ballot box in November and previewing Democrats’ campaign message.

“The Republicans are plotting a nationwide abortion ban. They cannot be allowed to have majority in the Congress to do that,” Pelosi said.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, on Friday also called on Congress to codify abortion protections. The duo have been working with Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., since the Democratic bill to ensure abortion protections failed last month. Those negotiators have expressed a new sense of urgency, but it is unlikely any legislation protecting abortion would gain the support of 10 Republicans to overcome the filibuster.

At a legislative dead end, President Joe Biden delivered remarks that reflected the White House’s view of abortion rights as a galvanizing issue in November.

If there aren’t enough lawmakers willing to protect access to abortion, he said, then Americans must “elect more senators and representatives to codify a woman’s right to choose into federal law [and] elect more state leaders to protect this right at the local level.”