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Reproductive rights defenders #RallyForAbortionJustice in Washington, D.C. on October 2, 2021. (Photo: Kisha Bari/Women's March/Twitter)

While Supreme Court Weighs Texas Abortion Ban, Senate Dems Urged to Kill Filibuster

"We cannot protect abortion access or voting rights without federal intervention and passing bills like the Women's Health Protection Act."

Jessica Corbett

As the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday heard oral arguments about a "dangerous and dystopian" abortion ban in Texas, Senate Democrats faced fresh calls to abolish the filibuster, an outdated rule that has impeded the party and President Joe Biden's agenda.

Although Vice President Kamala Harris is responsible for tie-breaking in the evenly split Senate, the chamber's makeup and the filibuster mean that many bills are blocked from being debated, let alone receiving a final vote.

Mounting GOP attacks this year on reproductive freedom and voting rights at the state level have heightened pressure on Senate Democrats to reform or end the filibuster—but doing so requires support from the full caucus, and there are still some holdouts.

Members of Fix Our Senate—a coalition of more than 80 groups working to "ensure that the promises of progress are not blocked by the filibuster"—ramped up pressure Monday on congressional leaders as the Supreme Court's right-wing supermajority considered the anti-choice Texas law that critics say blatantly violates the constitutional right affirmed by Roe v. Wade.

"We are organizing day in and day out to put a permanent stop to the unconstitutional bans that states like Texas are placing on our bodies," said Desireé Luckey and Monica Edwards, leaders at URGE (Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity), a member of Fix Our Senate.

"Unfortunately, the right to have an abortion will remain in peril as long as the filibuster remains intact—our broken democratic structures are blocking progress at every turn," Luckey and Edwards continued in their statement.

Noting that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) "only needed 51 votes to pack the Supreme Court with three ultra-conservative justices," the pair argued that "we should only need 51 votes to protect our right to abortion access and make choices for our bodies."

"Senate Democrats, who say they support reproductive rights but remain silent on or against the filibuster, are supporting reproductive rights in name only," they added. "We deserve federal legislation to protect abortion access, and that requires a path forward, free from the filibuster."

Their comments echoed digital, television, and print advertisements that Fix Our Senate is running in national, Washington, D.C., and Arizona markets. The TV ad says that "as long as the Senate rules are rigged, abortion access is vulnerable. Our healthcare should matter more."

After the Supreme Court let the Texas ban, Senate Bill 8, take effect, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) vowed to hold a vote on the Women's Health Protection Act (WHPA), which would codify Roe into federal law. Nearly all Democrats in the lower chamber came together in September to approve that bill, but it now faces an uncertain future in the Senate.

The high court—which last week yet again refused to temporarily block the Texas ban while it's being challenged—has said it will not consider the broader question of Roe for the Lone Star State's case, but justices are set to weigh the landmark ruling in another case this session. Sonja Spoo, director of reproductive rights campaigns at the group UltraViolet—another member of Fix Our Senate—highlighted Monday that Senate Democrats could send WHPA to Biden's desk if they killed the filibuster.

"Right now, anti-abortion extremist lawmakers and judges are on the verge of overturning Roe v. Wade and effectively ending access to abortion throughout the nation," she said. "We cannot protect abortion access or voting rights without federal intervention and passing bills like the Women's Health Protection Act."

Senate Republicans this year have blocked the bold voting rights package known as the For the People Act as well as a compromise bill for which Sen. Joe Manchin (D-V.Wa.), a key opponent of abolishing the filibuster, tried and failed to win 10 GOP votes.

"Federal legislation is critical to protecting the lives and basic rights of women and women of color, who are the primary targets of attacks on our voting right[s] and abortion rights," said Spoo. "We will do whatever it takes to ensure that members of Congress hear our demands and urge Senate leadership to use every tool at their disposal, including ending the filibuster, to protect the constitutional right to vote, and have an abortion."

As Common Dreams reported earlier Monday, in addition to calls to end the filibuster, the Supreme Court's review of the Texas abortion law also sparked demands for Democrats to expand the court, to which former President Donald Trump appointed three right-wing justices with help from McConnell.

Although congressional progressives have put forth legislation—the Judiciary Act of 2021—that would add four seats to the nation's top court, it currently lacks the support needed to pass either Democrat-controlled chamber, even if the Senate reformed or abolished the filibuster.

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