Senate Democrats seek to codify abortion rights into federal law

This week brings the first big test in the political fight over abortion rights. Senate Democrats will try to pass federal legislation guaranteeing the right to an abortion, an effort that will fail because they do not have the votes. The Boston Globe's Kimberly Atkins Stohr and The Washington Post's Lee Ann Caldwell join Geoff Bennett to discuss the politics of abortion.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    Time now for our weekend briefing, this week brings the first big test in the political fight over abortion rights. And the U.S. Senate Democrats will try to pass federal legislation guaranteeing the right to an abortion. The effort will fail though because Democrats do not have the votes. But that's not stopping the Senate Majority Leader.

  • Chuck Schumer:

    America. All of America will be watching. Republicans swill snot be able to hide from the American people and cannot hide from their role in bringing row to an end.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    To talk more about the fallout of that leaked Supreme Court draft opinion overturning the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision, we have with us Kimberly Atkins Stohr, a senior opinion writer and columnist for The Boston Globe and Leigh Ann Caldwell, anchor of Washington Post live and co-author of The Early 202 newsletter. It's great to have you both with us.

    And Leigh Ann, we'll start with you because Senator Schumer says the Senate is going to take up a bill this week to codify Roe versus Wade, it clearly doesn't have 60 votes in the Senate. My question is does it even have 50 votes and give us a sense of what the strategy is behind this the showboat that he said to hold?

  • Leigh Ann Caldwell, Washington Post Anchor:

    Yes, it's a good question, Geoff. I'm not sure if he even has 50 votes. Of course, there's 50 Democrats, but the Senate voted on something similar to this earlier this year, and they did not get the support of Senator Joe Manchin.

    Now it wasn't the actual legislation that they were voting on. It was just on a procedural motion to even open debate on the legislation, and that still did not get the support of Senator Joe Manchin.

    Now the reason Senator Schumer is holding a vote right now, even though it's going to fail is twofold. First, he wants to show the progressives, the Democratic base, people who are frustrated and angry about this ruling. The Democrats are trying to do something even though they aren't able don't have the votes to get anything done.

    And the second reason is he wants to put all Republicans on the record of voting against this, that is going to be a very clear cut line between the two parties, the Republicans and Democrats on where they stand on this issue. And Senator Schumer wants to make that known.

    Now, the difference between back in February when they had this vote, and today is now it's not esoteric, it's real, there is a very good chance that Roe v Wade is going to be overturned by the Supreme Court assuming this draft decision does, in fact, become reality.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    And Kimberly, building on the point that Leigh Ann made about Democrats viewing this now as being a real threat I want to draw on your legal background. Because as you know the idea in Roe is that abortion is an unenumerated right. One that the Constitution protects even if it doesn't explicitly say that there is a right to an abortion.

    And the thing that we've been hearing all this past week is that if roe is overturned, that could undermine other rights like same sex marriage, access to contraception, interracial marriage, potentially, there have been people who have said that that sort of idea is overblown. What's your sense of it?

  • Kimberly Atkins Stohr, Senior Columnist, Boston Globe:

    Well, I think it will be very difficult to keep this contained to only apply to abortion. Justice Sam Alito, in the opinion, tried to say that and tried to distinguish it by saying that emotion involves a human life. And so it's different from those other things.

    But when you look at that, that analysis, it's called substantive due process. That's that right that you're talking about, the rights that are not expressly in the Constitution, but that the Court has recognized as fundamental. It's the privacy right that the right to abortion was based upon, that underscores the right to access contraception. The right to have a privacy to do what you please in your own home and extends to other things. It could include the same sex marriage right, depending on the way that it's interpreted.

    I think those and interracial marriage and other things are also based on equal protection, which may make those a little harder to attack. But certainly there are a number of rights that we think about in terms of liberty that are protected by the Constitution, or at least have been until they two are challenged. And if it's thrown out the same way that this privacy right was essentially thrown out by Justice Alito, it could be it could be on shaky ground.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    And Leigh Ann, there has been this interesting dynamic where Republicans who have worked for decades for generations to get to this moment and yet they don't want to talk about it. Take a look at what Mitch McConnell, Senator McConnell said.

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell, Minority Leader:

    This laws action should be investigated and punished to the fullest extent possible. The court should tune-out the bad face noise and feel completely free to do their job.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    What's the issue here? Are they concerned about voter backlash? Is that why they're not talking about the substance of the opinion, the draft opinion and more about the leak?

  • Leigh Ann Caldwell:

    Yes, it's pretty incredible, Geoff, that conservatives, social conservatives have been working on this issue for decades. And now they have done it. And they are not talking, as you mentioned about the substance of the case. They're talking about the leak.

    Now, the reason is, I'm told by Republican operatives by Republican sources, is that because there is a lot of uncertainty and how the public is going to view this. The midterms are just six months away. And now like we were talking about before, this is not just something this is reality now. And so voters could very well punished Republican.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Yes. And Kimberly, on the on the Democratic side, there is some liberal frustration that Democrats in Washington don't seem to be fighting hard enough. Here's what California Governor Gavin Newsom said this past week.

    Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) California: Where the hell's my party? Where's the Democratic Party? This is a concerted, coordinated effort. And yes, they're winning. They are. They have been. Let's acknowledge that. We need to stand up. Where's the counter offensive?

  • Geoff Bennett:

    And there have been Democrats who have said, you know, it's been no secret that Republicans have been trying for generations to overturn Roe. Where's the fight? Where's the strategy? How are Washington Democrats responding to that?

  • Kimberly Atkins Stohr:

    Well, we do see this vote that is set up to put everyone on record. But you're absolutely right. This is not something that happened overnight. This draft decision is the result of an more than decades long, sustained campaign by conservative groups, members of the Christian right well-funded, well-coordinated task to put conservatives in office so that they can appoint conservative judges and justices, and lead up to this decision if Democrats are turning to this issue.

    Now, they're really far behind the starting line. They're really far behind the finish line, essentially at this point. And so I think that's what you're seeing now a scramble by Democrats on the national and state levels to see exactly what they can do to fight this off now. It may be too late.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Kimberly Atkins Stohr and Leigh Ann Caldwell, thank you both for your reporting and your insights. It's great to see you.

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