Congress must stop the Supreme Court and protect abortion rights now
The Democrats in Congress could save abortion rights now, before the Supreme Court guts them. It would take ending the filibuster and passing the Women's Health Protection Act. Los demócratas en el Congreso podrían salvar el derecho al aborto ahora, antes de que la Corte Suprema los destruya. Se necesitaría terminar con el obstruccionismo y aprobar la Ley de Protección de la Salud de la Mujer. | AP

Women’s health in the United States has been dealt a devastating blow by the Supreme Court’s pending decision overturning Roe v. Wade. When it takes effect, women who need abortions will be made criminals in half the states of this country. The underground and often dangerous procedures that were part of the pre-Roe era will return in many places. And as is the norm under this racist and discriminatory capitalist system, working class women, poor women, women of color, and trans persons needing reproductive care will suffer the most.

However, it’s not too late to stop this from happening.

Reproductive rights can be saved now—before the right-wing Supreme Court has a chance to destroy them. With control of both houses of Congress and the White House, the Democratic Party has the ability to eliminate the filibuster, immediately pass a law to save abortion rights, and send it to President Biden for his signature.

Missouri Rep. Cori Bush, on Tuesday morning, already issued the marching orders that should be followed: “Abolish the filibuster. Codify Roe…. Protect abortion rights by any means necessary.”

It could be done within days, literally.

The question, then, seems like a simple one: Will Democratic leaders treat this assault on women’s health like the emergency that it is? Or will they just use abortion as a plank in their election platform, another fundraising opportunity? True enough, the campaign cash appeals are already filling up email inboxes: “Will you help us stop the Republicans in the midterms? Donate $5 now.”

The cynic would expect no less, but the process of codifying Roe is, of course, politically more difficult than the simple logistics might suggest.

A law making abortion rights permanent has already been drafted—the Women’s Health Protection Act. Currently, the national right to an abortion rests on the 1973 Roe decision and rulings that came after, like the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey opinion. Some states have passed laws protecting access, but many have not. The WHPA would explicitly prohibit governmental restrictions on the provision of, and access to, abortion services. It would override all the state-level efforts to restrict reproductive choice.

Rep. Judy Chu of California has been introducing the bill almost every year since 2013. It passed the House of Representatives, again, just this past February. Republican opposition in the Senate blocked it, again. The GOP killed the bill using the undemocratic filibuster, which requires a law to have 60 votes to advance.

Codifying Roe would require the Democrats to eliminate the filibuster to allow a straight vote on the WHPA. In the 50-50 split Senate, that would mean Vice President Kamala Harris would cast the tie-breaking vote. Then, Biden could sign the law immediately. It could all be tied up and finished before the Supreme Court even makes its ruling official.

Standing in the way, however, are right-wing Democrats like Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. It’s a re-run of a story we’ve already seen. These same two renegades also helped sink the union rights PRO Act, Biden’s Build Back Better Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, and the For the People Act.

Anti-people politicians like Manchin and Sinema are accomplices in the long-term Republican scheme to reverse progress and entrench corporate and fundamentalist rule in this country—both inside and outside Congress.

For years, the GOP has been executing its plot to pack the courts with reactionary judges and destroy not just abortion rights, but also the right of workers to organize a union, voting rights, affirmative action, women’s equality, LGBTQ equality, environmental protections, and more.

Taking federal, state, and county courts back from the extreme right is going to take time, and it’s going to require beating Republican candidates up and down the ballot—this November and in every election to come. That falls on all of us, and the mobilization efforts should already be underway.

But the Democratic leadership must also stop shrinking from the challenge when it comes to protecting reproductive health. No more saying that a national abortion law is “not a priority,” as President Obama did in 2009. No more saying abortion is “not a litmus test” for new Democratic congressional candidates, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi did in 2018. No more putting anti-abortion candidates on the presidential ticket, as was done when Hillary Clinton picked Tim Kaine as VP in 2020.

This refusal to take up the fight has helped bring us to this moment, helped deliver Republicans to the verge of achieving their goal of destroying the Constitutional right to reproductive health care. But those wrongs can be righted today if Democrats eliminate the filibuster and pass the WHPA.

Biden should use the power of the presidential bully-pulpit to put the squeeze on the Republicans’ helpers in the Democratic Party, those like Manchin and Sinema. President Lyndon Johnson, who was no progressive, knocked heads together in his own party to get the landmark Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act passed in the 1960s. This assault on Roe v. Wade requires no less an effort.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Speaker Pelosi should make it clear to every member of their party in Congress that national-level financial and other backing for their election campaigns will be contingent on their vote for the WHPA.

The immediate task couldn’t be clearer. Congress has to pass legislation codifying Roe v. Wade as the law of the land. If there aren’t 60 votes in the Senate to do it—and there are not—then the filibuster must be ended and legislation passed with 50 votes. Whatever it takes.

We return to Rep. Cori Bush’s mandate as our watchword: “Protect abortion rights by any means necessary.”

People’s World Editors Collective

– C.J. Atkins

– Chauncey K. Robinson

– John Wojcik


People’s World Editors Collective
People’s World Editors Collective

The Editors Collective oversees the day-to-day editorial work of People's World. Its members include Editor-in-Chief John Wojcik, Managing Editor C.J. Atkins, and Social Media Editor Chauncey K. Robinson. El Colectivo de Editores supervisa el trabajo editorial diario de People's World.