Congress roiled by U.S. Supreme Court decision revoking abortion rights
A crowd gathered outside the U.S. Supreme Court on May 3, 2022, after a draft opinion was leaked that, if adopted, would overturn Roe v. Wade. (Photo by Jane Norman/States Newsroom)
Republicans in Congress were jubilant at the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling overturning decades of precedent to revoke a constitutional right to an abortion, while Democrats were equally despondent about what they called an extremist decision that revoked a long-held right and represented an attack on women’s autonomy.
The party-line reaction hints at how lawmakers will approach abortion as the issue moves away from the court and more directly to the elected branches of government.
Democrats urged that voters remember the ruling when they go to the polls in the November mid-term elections and said they will redouble their attempts to pass legislation protecting the right to an abortion that’s stalled in the evenly divided U.S. Senate.
Iowa members of Congress react
Iowa Republicans championed the overturning of the Supreme Courts overturning the constitutional right to an abortion while the state’s lone Democrat in D.C. said the ruling is a threat to privacy.
Rep. Randy Feenstra said Friday was a momentous day for the pro-life movement.
“I am overjoyed that the sanctity of life has triumphed,” Feenstra said. “By striking down Roe, we can truly live up to our highest moral values and allow states like Iowa – where we proudly defend innocent life – to codify laws that reflect our deepest convictions. As a Christian and father of four, I will always protect the unborn and vote to ensure that every child is guaranteed one of our most fundamental constitutional rights; the right to life.”
Rep. Marriannette Miller-Meeks said she has fought for the pro-life movement since she served as a state senator and will continue to ensure access to contraceptives and maternal care.
“As a doctor, I believe that every life is precious and I have always and will always vote in support of protecting life and the unborn,” Miller-Meeks said. “Today, the Supreme Court made the important decision to allow individual states to be able to uphold the sanctity of life and protect the unborn.”
“This decision will save countless lives,” Rep. Ashley Hinson said. “In Congress, I will continue to champion pro-life policies and work to support expecting mothers and their babies.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley said the ruling does not ban abortions but instead allows the states to decide as opposed to unelected judges.
“For many Americans, including myself, this decision is about far more than correcting a flawed legal analysis in Roe; it means that the rights of the unborn are no longer in jeopardy by our federal government. Our nation was founded on the fundamental principle we are endowed by our creator with the unalienable right to life – a right that must be protected.
“I’m proudly and adamantly pro-life,” Sen. Joni Ernst said. “This decision reflects the science, will save lives, and rightly returns policymaking power back to the American people and their elected officials.”
Rep. Cindy Axne, Iowa’s only Democratic representative, said the Supreme Court’s decision takes women’s rights back to another century.
“Today when I woke up, I had freedom,” Axne said in a news conference Friday. “More than my mother had. And in the middle of the day, I have less freedom than my mom had. Think about that: They want to take us back to another century. This is not what America wants.”
Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who backs abortion rights, said she voted to confirm Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, and their agreement with the majority 6-3 decision was “inconsistent” with what they said during their hearings and in conversations with her. “The court “abandoned a fifty-year precedent at a time that the country is desperate for stability,” Collins said in a statement.
The leaders of the House Pro-Choice Caucus, Democrats Diana DeGette of Colorado and Barbara Lee of California, said in a statement the ruling would force women in half the states to “face a terrifying legal landscape when trying to access the abortion care they need.”
“We cannot overstate the devastating impact that this horrific decision will have on millions of people across this country,” they said. “By disregarding fifty years of legal precedent, the U.S. Supreme Court has effectively stripped away from 36 million women the freedom to control their own bodies and have handed that power, instead, to the politicians in their states.”
The decision would “undoubtedly put the health and economic futures of millions of women at risk,” they said. They pledged to renew efforts to enshrine legal protections to abortion in legislation.
President Joe Biden said the ruling broke new ground for the court in revoking an existing right and would have immediate impact in states with more restrictive laws than Roe would have permitted.
“The court has done what it has never done before: Expressly take away a constitutional right that is so fundamental to so many Americans.”
McConnell compares to segregation decision
Celebrating the ruling, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell compared it to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that invalidated legal school segregation. Like the Friday ruling, the Brown decision also overturned a previous Supreme Court case.
“The Court has corrected a terrible legal and moral error, like when Brown v. Board overruled Plessy v. Ferguson,” McConnell said in a statement.
Statements from some Republican lawmakers recognized the ruling as the culmination of decades of activism aimed at overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.
“Millions of Americans have spent half a century praying, marching, and working toward today’s historic victories for the rule of law and for innocent life,” McConnell said. “I have been proud to stand with them throughout our long journey and I share their joy today.”
“I’ve waited 49 years for it and the wait is OVER!!!” Louisiana U.S. Rep. Billy Long wrote on Twitter. “#SCOTUS overturns #RoeVsWade, potentially saving millions of innocent lives!!!”
Several Republican members of Congress tweeted simply, “Life wins.”
Members posting that message or a version of it included Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Jim Jordan and Mike Carey of Ohio, Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, Jody Hice and Buddy Carter of Georgia, Yvette Herrell of New Mexico, Diana Harshbarger of Tennessee, Kat Cammack of Florida, Lisa McClain of Michigan and the House Republican Conference account.
President Joe Biden is scheduled to speak about the decision Friday afternoon.
Women in Congress
The leaders of the Democratic Women’s Caucus in the House, including Co-Chairs Lois Frankel of Florida, Brenda Lawrence of Michigan, Jackie Speier of California and Whip Nikema Williams of Georgia, said the ruling would “go down in history as one of (the court’s) worst, most unjust decisions.”
“Women are not chattel, and the government should not have the right to mandate pregnancies,” they said in a statement. “Every situation and pregnancy is different, and all people deserve the freedom to control their bodies and make personal decisions about their lives and futures. We will never give up the fight for access to full health care.”
In her own tweet, Williams noted her decade-long employment with Planned Parenthood before coming to Congress that gave her a closer look at the consequences of restricting abortion access.
“I’ve seen the pain and devastation that comes when states eliminate equal access to legal, safe abortions,” she said. “The Supreme Court’s radical majority hasn’t just opened the door to that, it’s welcoming it with open arms.”
Schumer blames Senate GOP
Several Democrats blamed Senate Republicans for the Supreme Court’s conservative makeup and called for action in the chamber to protect abortion rights on the federal level.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement the ruling made Friday “one of the darkest days our country has ever seen” and called Senate Republicans “complicit in today’s decision and all of its consequences for women and families.”
Schumer urged voters to remember the court’s decision in November.
“Today’s decision makes crystal clear the contrast as we approach the November elections,” the New York Democrat said in a statement.
“Elect more MAGA Republicans if you want nationwide abortion bans, the jailing of women and doctors and no exemptions for rape or incest. Or, elect more pro-choice Democrats to save Roe and protect a woman’s right to make their own decisions about their body, not politicians.”’
Biden also called for Congress to act and for voters to choose candidates in November who support abortion rights.
Ohio’s Tim Ryan, a Democratic House member running for the Senate, sought campaign contributions immediately after the ruling was released.
“I proudly voted for the Women’s Health Protection Act in the House, only to watch it die in the Senate,” he wrote on Twitter. “It’s clear the Senate is not working and women will pay the price unless we act. Make a donation to help us defeat my anti-choice opponent, JD Vance.”
Senate Judiciary ranking Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa celebrated the ruling, which he said protected “the rights of the unborn.” The ruling was well-reasoned in its overturning of judicial precedent — an action the high court has taken before, he noted.
“For many Americans, including myself, this decision is about far more than correcting a flawed legal analysis in Roe,” he said in a written statement. “It means that the rights of the unborn are no longer in jeopardy by our federal government. Our nation was founded on the fundamental principle we are endowed by our creator with the unalienable right to life — a right that must be protected.
“This ruling does not ban the practice of abortion but instead empowers the people, through their accountable elected representatives to make commonsense policy decisions. It takes policymaking out of the hands of unelected judges.”
Former Vice President Mike Pence, a longtime champion of the religious right, called for state abortion bans in every state.
“Having been given this second chance for Life, we must not rest and must not relent until the sanctity of life is restored to the center of American law in every state in the land,” he posted on Twitter.
Manchin, Collins blast Trump justices
But the court’s move Friday to directly contradict established precedent — especially by justices who’d explicitly identified Roe as settled during their confirmation hearings — opened it to criticism.
Even the most conservative member of Schumer’s caucus, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin III, said Friday he was “deeply disappointed” in the ruling.
Manchin, who considers himself pro-life and voted for two of former President Donald Trump’s nominees to the court, criticized those justices Friday for breaking with what they’d said in confirmation hearings.
“I trusted Justice (Neil) Gorsuch and Justice (Brett) Kavanaugh when they testified under oath that they also believed Roe v. Wade was settled legal precedent and I am alarmed they chose to reject the stability the ruling has provided for two generations of Americans,” Manchin said in a written statement.
Collins expressed displeasure with Gorsuch and Kavanaugh in a statement that slammed the decision for casting abortion policy into upheaval.
“This ill-considered action will further divide the country at a moment when, more than ever in modern times, we need the Court to show both consistency and restraint. Throwing out a precedent overnight that the country has relied upon for half a century is not conservative. It is a sudden and radical jolt to the country that will lead to political chaos, anger, and a further loss of confidence in our government.
“This decision is inconsistent with what Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh said in their testimony and their meetings with me, where they both were insistent on the importance of supporting long-standing precedents that the country has relied upon.”
Manchin and fellow “pro-life Democrat” Sen. Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania blasted the decision for overturning established law.
“Today’s decision upends almost a half century of legal precedent and rips away a constitutional right that generations of women have known their entire lives,” Casey, whose father, as the commonwealth’s governor, challenged Roe in another of the cases the court overturned Friday, tweeted.
“This dangerous ruling won’t end abortions in this country, but it will put women’s lives at risk,” he added.
Senate fight to come?
With abortion rights no longer guaranteed by the judicial branch, many Democrats on Friday appealed for passage of legislation to protect abortion rights, including a House-passed measure that has stalled under the Senate’s 60-vote threshold.
“The Senate must pass the Women’s Health Protection Act,” U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said in a statement. “Republican obstruction and abuse of the filibuster is not an acceptable excuse for inaction when the fundamental rights of millions hang in the balance.”
Collins’ statement promoted her own bill with Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski that she said would codify the protections in Roe. She was also working with Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine on a bipartisan bill, she said.
Abortion rights should be consistent nationally, Collins said, though states should be allowed to make minor policy adjustments.
“Our goal with this legislation is to do what the Court should have done — provide the consistency in our abortion laws that Americans have relied upon for 50 years,” she said.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, promised the panel would hold a hearing next month to explore the “grim reality” of the decision’s consequences.
“I will keep fighting to enshrine into law a woman’s right to make her own reproductive choices,” Durbin said. “We cannot let our children inherit a nation that is less free and more dangerous than the one their parents grew up in.”
Durbin spoke with Vice President Kamala Harris about the ruling as the two traveled on Air Force Two Friday morning, according to a pool report.
— Ariana Figueroa contributed to this report.
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