After every Republican in the Senate and conservative Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin (West Virginia) voted against a bill to guarantee abortion access in the U.S. on Wednesday night, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) questioned why Manchin caucuses with Democrats at all.
Though the bill didn’t have a chance of passing without filibuster abolition or reform, Senate leaders hoped to get lawmakers’ votes opposing abortion access on the public record. All 49 other Democrats in the Senate voted for the bill, which would have allowed health care providers to conduct abortions “prior to fetal viability” or if the parent’s or fetus’s health is at risk. It would also explicitly ban states from prohibiting access to such services, with the goal of essentially codifying Roe v. Wade into law.
In a tweet clearly aimed at Manchin, Sanders wrote: “If you can’t stand up for a woman’s right to choose, for voting rights, for an economy that works for all, why are you caucusing with the Senate Democrats? We need a Democratic Majority where all members believe in economic, racial, social and environmental justice.”
Manchin announced his opposition to the bill ahead of the vote on Wednesday afternoon, claiming that he wouldn’t vote for it because “it expands abortion,” he told reporters. His statements echo that of Senate Republicans, who say that they oppose the bill because it overrules state laws and doesn’t carve out exceptions for Catholic hospitals to refuse to provide abortions.
Moderate Republicans and Manchin claim that they’re generally opposed to abortion bans – yet their opposition to the scope of the bill shows that they want at least some restrictions to remain. Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) have introduced a competing bill that they say would only codify Roe – but the law has a loophole that would still allow restrictions on abortions, like the Mississippi law barring abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, or about eight weeks earlier than the time frame protected under Roe.
With the Supreme Court ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade in the works, the bill’s passage is more urgent than ever to protect families and save countless lives by guaranteeing abortion access at the federal level. Many Democratic lawmakers swiftly jumped to action after the Supreme Court draft opinion was leaked last week, joining pro-abortion protesters and warning that overturning Roe would be a major step on the far right’s path to restricting a variety of other rights.
The exceptions were Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona). Shortly after the leaked draft opinion became public, Manchin and Sinema announced that they would not support efforts to reform or abolish the filibuster in order to protect abortion rights – essentially making it impossible to codify the abortion protections in Roe. Manchin has previously described himself as “pro-life.”
With Manchin’s relentless obstruction of nearly every Democratic priority over the course of Joe Biden’s presidency, many political commentators and frustrated Democratic lawmakers have questioned why the conservative even considers himself a part of the Democratic party.
According to a recently released excerpt from an upcoming book, This Will Not Pass, Manchin has joked around with Republican colleagues that he should change parties. He has repeatedly insisted that he is a Democrat, but his opposition to virtually every Democratic proposal and the major financial support he receives from right-wing sources have caused his allegiances to frequently be called into question.