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House votes to protect abortion rights amid state challenges

On Friday the House voted on legislation aimed at guaranteeing a woman’s right to an abortion, an effort by House Democrats to find their way around a new Texas law that has placed that access under threat.

Democrats are expected to challenge the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision after the Supreme Court recently allowed the Texas law banning most abortions in the state to take effect. The court will hear arguments in December in a separate Mississippi bid to overturn the landmark decision.

Codifying the Roe ruling would mean creating a right to abortion in federal law, a monumental change that would make it harder for courts and states to impose restrictions.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that congressional action would make a “tremendous difference” in Democrats’ efforts to maintain access to abortion rights. She called the Supreme Court’s decision “shameful” and counter to its own precedent.

Pelosi said just ahead of the vote that it should “send a very positive message to the women of our country — but not just the women, to the women and their families, to everyone who values freedom, honors our Constitution and respects women.”

The vote is bound to fall mostly along party lines. Nearly every House Republican, including the few who favor abortion rights, is expected to vote against the legislation, which would supersede state laws on the subject, give health care providers the right to perform abortions and patients the right to receive them. Republicans argue it would prevent states from setting requirements like parental involvement and could weaken laws that allow doctors to refuse to perform an abortion.

The vote comes as Democrats have spoken boldly about fighting the Supreme Court — which has a more conservative tilt after Justice Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed last year — but struggled privately to find an effective strategy. They control Congress by the slimmest of margins, including the evenly split 50-50 Senate, making the prospects of a successful legislative response difficult.

The party has split, in some cases, over how far Washington must go to preserve access to abortions. Liberal lawmakers backed by advocates of reproductive rights who helped power President Joe Biden to office want to expand the number of justices on the Supreme Court to rebalance power, changing the rules if needed to lower the 60-vote threshold typically required in the Senate to advance legislation.

Biden supports the House bill and called the court’s ruling on Texas an “unprecedented assault on a woman’s constitutional rights.” He has directed multiple agencies to conduct a government-wide effort to ensure women have abortion access and to protect health care providers. But he has not endorsed the idea of adding justices to the Supreme Court, instead forming a commission to study it.

Women and advocates of abortion rights are gearing up to take on those Republicans.