Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked a pair of Republican bills that would have banned most late-term abortions and threatened prison for doctors who don't try saving the life of infants born alive during abortions.
The measures have been defeated multiple times in recent years, but Senate Republicans pushed for renewed votes to allow GOP lawmakers to make an election-year appeal to conservative voters.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell accused Democrats of bowing to “the radical demands of the far left" to “drown out common sense” and the views of millions of Americans.
"It almost defies belief that an entire political party could find cause to object to this basic protection for babies,'' the Kentucky Republican said.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer blasted McConnell for taking up the Senate's time on what he called "fake, dishonest and extreme legislation that has nothing to do with improving the lives of ordinary Americans.''
Noting that existing laws protect infants, Schumer said the GOP bills would have, in effect, served to “criminalize" women’s reproductive care and intimidate health care providers.
“Putting these already defeated bills up for a show vote is not a good-faith attempt to improve the lives of ... American women,'' the New York Democrat said. "Every single Senate Republican knows that these bills cannot and will not pass. But they’re putting them on the floor anyway to pander to the hard right. And to cover up the fact that they won’t provide good health care for women.''
Senators voted 56-41 for the born-alive bill, and 53-44 for a separate measure banning most abortions after 20 weeks. Both tallies were short of the 60 votes needed to end Democratic delaying tactics and force a Senate vote.
Democratic Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Doug Jones of Alabama and Joe Manchin from West Virginia were the only lawmakers to cross party lines on the born-alive bill. Jones and GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska opposed the late-term abortion ban.
Three senators seeking the Democratic nomination for president -- Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota -- did not cast votes.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said the Senate debate was not about passing laws or even health care. "It is really about Republicans’ crass political calculation that they can fire up their far-right base with an all-out war against the constitutionally protected right to safe, legal abortion,'' she said.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said the bill he sponsored was not about limiting access to abortion at all. Instead, the bill aimed to make sure that every newborn baby "has a fighting chance — whether she’s born in a labor and delivery ward or whether she’s born in an abortion clinic.”
Sasse's bill called for making it a crime to deny care to a baby that’s survived an abortion. “Are we a country that protects babies that are alive, born outside the womb after having survived a botched abortion?'' he asked.
Or is the United States a country “that says it’s okay to just sit back and allow that baby to die? It’s a plain and simple question and we all know what the right answer is,'' Sasse said. ”This isn’t a hard call.”
A separate bill sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., would have essentially banned abortion after 20 weeks, the point at which many scientists say an unborn child can feel pain.
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