Democrats Block Abortion-Related Bills as Republicans Seek Election Advantage

Democrats Block Abortion-Related Bills as Republicans Seek Election Advantage

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked action on legislation that would ban almost all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and impose criminal penalties on doctors who fail to aggressively treat babies born after abortions, casting a pair of votes that Republicans hope to use to their advantage in the 2020 elections.

The two measures, which both fell short of the 60 votes necessary to advance, were doomed from the start, having already failed in the Senate. But the action on Tuesday, scheduled by Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, was engineered to energize social conservatives and put centrist Democrats facing tough re-election campaigns in a difficult spot with an issue that plays to deep cultural divides in the country.

“Today every senator will be able to take a clear moral stand,” Mr. McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, said, adding, “At a minimum, elective abortion should be limited to the first three months of pregnancy.”

The votes, which fell mostly along party lines, came as President Trump, who has taken to calling himself “the most pro-life president in American history,” is making opposition to abortion a central theme of his presidency and his campaign for re-election. The debate was emotional and highly charged, with Republicans repeatedly accusing Democrats of favoring killing babies — an assertion that has no basis in fact.

The votes prompted moderates in both parties to cross party lines. Senators Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and Doug Jones, Democrat of Alabama, both facing tough re-election campaigns, each split their votes, backing one bill but not the other, as did Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska.

Democrats, who have long accused Republicans of waging a war on women’s reproductive rights, revived that line of attack. They accused Mr. McConnell of playing politics with the Senate’s time by staging “show votes” on measures he knew would fail, while refusing to take up hundreds of bills already passed by the House Democrats, including those to protect women’s health.

“After weeks of complaining that the impeachment trial of President Trump was preventing the Senate from doing the people’s business, this is what the Senate Republicans have proposed: Fake, dishonest, extreme legislation that has nothing to do with improving the lives of ordinary Americans,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader.

Both bills put a spotlight on abortions that occur late in pregnancy, which are exceedingly rare — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last year that abortions after 20 weeks accounted for 1.2 percent of abortions in 2016, the most recent period studied. And both carry names that abortion rights advocates say are meant to mislead and instill fear in the American public.

The first bill, the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” sponsored by Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, would ban nearly all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with limited exceptions. Rape victims, for instance, would be required to undergo counseling first. Proponents insist fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks, citing their own review of scientific literature, and a recent article in the Journal of Medical Ethics says “neuroscience cannot definitively rule out fetal pain before 24 weeks.” But medical experts who favor abortion rights say there is no evidence of that.

It fell seven votes short of the necessary 60, failing by a vote of 53 to 44. Two Republicans — Ms. Collins and Ms. Murkowski — crossed party lines to vote against it. Two Democrats — Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania — voted in favor.

The second, the “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” sponsored by Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, would require doctors to “exercise the proper degree of care in the case of a child who survives an abortion or attempted abortion.” Experts say such circumstances are extremely unusual, but the measure would apply to cases in which a baby is not viable outside the womb and doctors induce labor as a means of terminating a pregnancy. The bill would subject physicians to fines and prison time if they failed to comply.

That bill failed, 56 to 44, with Mr. Casey, Mr. Manchin and Mr. Jones joining all 53 Republicans to vote in favor. The three Democrats scheduled to participate in Tuesday night’s presidential debate in South Carolina — Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota — were absent for both votes.

“This is about infanticide! That’s the actual legislation,” Mr. Sasse declared at one point, insisting that Democrats were hiding behind euphemisms. “We’re talking about killing babies that are born.”

To that, Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat, shot back that infanticide was already a crime. He cited the case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, an abortion doctor in Philadelphia who was convicted in 2013 of three counts of first-degree murder after botching abortions on poor women late in their pregnancies, and is now in prison. “That’s why I think your bill is unnecessary,” he told Mr. Sasse.

Mr. Sasse insisted that doctors and abortion clinics were engaging in “passive infanticide” by withholding care from babies who survive abortions. “That’s what we should prevent, and that’s what this legislation is about,” he said.

The bill attracted the attention of conservatives last year when the Virginia Legislature debated a bill to loosen restrictions on access to abortion late in pregnancy. Mr. Trump and Republicans seized on the comments of Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, who discussed with a radio interviewer what would happen in the rare case that a mother wanted to terminate her pregnancy while in labor.

“The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and mother,” Mr. Northam responded — a comment that Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, said was tantamount to support for “legal infanticide.”

But Dr. Karla Alba, a doctor with Physicians for Reproductive Health, a group based in New York that works to expand access to reproductive health care, said that is simply untrue.

“As a physician who provides abortion care, my goal is to provide safe, compassionate care to all of my patients,” she said. “That kind of misinformation is often used by anti-abortion groups to vilify providers of abortion care.”

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