WASHINGTON ― Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) on Tuesday announced his support for laws that might safeguard abortion rights across the country, a serious shift for one among the last remaining anti-abortion Democrats in Congress.
The senator’s reversal on the matter now leaves Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) because the lone Democratic holdout on federal protections for abortion rights.
Casey has long called himself a “pro-life” Democrat, constructing on his father’s opposition to abortion (his father was the Casey in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 Supreme Court opinion that affirmed Roe v. Wade).
But in an announcement on Tuesday, Casey said that “circumstances around the whole debate on abortion have modified” because the last time the Senate voted on and didn’t advance the Women’s Health Protection Act in February. The bill would enshrine the correct to an abortion in federal law.
“In light of the leaked Supreme Court decision draft overturning Roe v. Wade, and subsequent reports that Republicans within the U.S. House and Senate will introduce laws to enact a nationwide six-week ban, the actual query of the moment is: Do you support a categorical ban on abortion?” Casey said. “During my time in public office I actually have never voted for — nor do I support — such a ban.”
But Casey’s endorsement of the bill won’t do much to alter the slim possibilities of the bill’s passage since Democrats still lack the 60 votes to beat a GOP filibuster on the measure. And Manchin isn’t more likely to support the bill even when he votes on Wednesday to advance it for procedural reasons.
Nevertheless, the endorsement of federal protections for abortion by a longtime self-styled “pro-life” Democrat reflects the shifting politics on a hot button issue ― especially in Pennsylvania, a battleground state where access to abortion will probably be directly on the ballot this November. Several GOP candidates running for governor there have declared their support for banning abortion outright.
Democrats on Tuesday welcomed the news that they’d gained yet another sponsor to the Women’s Health Protection Act.
“I feel we all know that Bob has thought of it long and hard, it means rather a lot to him due to his father and his family,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Unwell.) said. “So I feel it’s a positive endorsement.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said Casey’s endorsement of the bill would put “additional pressure on Republican colleagues who may share a few of his views but haven’t mustered the urge to step forward yet.”
Neither Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) or Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), two Republican senators who say they back abortion rights, intend to vote for the Women’s Health Protection Act. They’ve argued that the laws doesn’t provide sufficient protection to anti-abortion health providers, including Catholic hospitals ― a charge Democrats have said is unwarranted.
“It could not change one iota of existing law,” Blumenthal told HuffPost. “It could simply codify existing law…this concept that it will require doctors to perform abortions is just not true.”