The House will vote in late September to protect abortion rights, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said this week, after the Supreme Court rejected a request to block the new Texas law outlawing most abortions in the state after six weeks.
The court’s late-night ruling left Democrats in Washington and across the country scrambling to respond, sparking vows for action on Capitol Hill and renewed calls from activists for the expansion of the Supreme Court currently controlled by conservatives.
“It’s so stunning,” Pelosi said Thursday at an event in Texas, pledging a House vote when the chamber returns at the end of the month to “make sure that women everywhere have access to reproductive health that they need.”
Democrats have coalesced around the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would “enshrine the protections of Roe v. Wade into law,” Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., the lead author of the bill, told ABC News.
“If it were to pass, then abortion access would be protected everywhere, in every state,” Chu said, adding that the House is expected to vote on the measure the week of Sept. 20.
But the path forward is unclear in the Senate, where Democrats hold a majority with just 50 seats. Forty-eight Democrats back the bill; Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Joe Manchin of West Virginia are not co-sponsors.
Even with the support of pro-choice GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the proposal would still lack the votes to clear the chamber’s 60-vote threshold to reach the president’s desk.
While a Senate Democratic aide claimed “all options are on the table” in response to the Supreme Court’s decision, Chu was skeptical that the party could use the budget reconciliation process, which Democrats are using to pass President Joe Biden’s policy agenda with just 50 votes in the Senate around GOP opposition, to enact abortion protections.
“Whatever we pass with reconciliation has to have a direct impact on the budget, and I have to think that this would not qualify,” she said.
Even if Democrats did pass a bill to enshrine the protections of the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision, it wouldn’t be a “silver bullet,” said Kate Shaw, a constitutional law professor at Cardozo School of Law and ABC News legal contributor.
“As a constitutional matter, I do think Congress is on solid footing, but I also think it’s possible that this conservative Supreme Court, particularly if it was hostile to the effort to enshrine in federal law abortion protections, could be inclined to read Congress’s [authority] narrowly, which could result in this law being invalidated,” Shaw said.
With the court’s 6-3 conservative majority, and plans to take up a major abortion case later this fall brought by the state of Mississippi, some Democrats are pressuring party leaders to consider altering the number of justices on the highest court for the first time since 1869 — or change Senate rules to empower Democrats to pass abortion legislation with just 50 votes.
“We need to restore balance to the court after Donald Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell blatantly stole the seats of Justice Scalise and Justice Ginsburg,” Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said in a statement, referring to Senate Republicans’ refusal to fill the seat left vacant by the death of the late Justice Antonin Scalia until after the 2016 presidential election, and decision to confirm a replacement for the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the fall of 2020, before the election.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., a member of the progressive “squad” and co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act, has been among those calling to expand the court.
“We need to abolish the filibuster and we need to expand the court,” Pressley told ABC News Friday night. “I’m not at all surprised by the extreme response of this court. The courts have not been on our side, and that’s why Congress must act.”
But Biden, a former chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been wary of changing Senate rules or altering the composition of the Supreme Court, and instead set up a commission to study the issue.
“He’s waiting for the conclusion of [the commission’s] report, looks forward to reviewing it, seeing where they come out,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday.
Democratic candidates and operatives also expect the Supreme Court’s actions to reverberate into the upcoming election cycles, likely turning abortion into a major issue for the party looking to defend gubernatorial seats in 2021 and the House and Senate majorities in 2022.
ABC News’ Trish Turner contributed to this report.