WASHINGTON ― Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) on Tuesday announced his support for legislation that would safeguard abortion rights across the country, a major shift for one of the last remaining anti-abortion Democrats in Congress.
The senator’s reversal on the matter now leaves Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) as the lone Democratic holdout on federal protections for abortion rights.
Casey has long called himself a “pro-life” Democrat, building 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 a statement on Tuesday, Casey said that “circumstances around the entire debate on abortion have changed” since the last time the Senate voted on and failed to advance the Women’s Health Protection Act in February. The bill would enshrine the right to an abortion in federal law.
“In light of the leaked Supreme Court decision draft overturning Roe v. Wade, and subsequent reports that Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate will introduce legislation to enact a nationwide six-week ban, the real question of the moment is: Do you support a categorical ban on abortion?” Casey said. “During my time in public office I have never voted for — nor do I support — such a ban.”
But Casey’s endorsement of the bill won’t do much to change the slim chances of the bill’s passage since Democrats still lack the 60 votes to overcome a GOP filibuster on the measure. And Manchin isn’t likely to support the bill even if he votes on Wednesday to advance it for procedural reasons.
However, 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 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 had gained one more sponsor to the Women’s Health Protection Act.
“I think we know that Bob has thought about it long and hard, it means a lot to him because of his father and his family,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said. “So I think 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 some 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 legislation does not provide sufficient protection to anti-abortion health providers, including Catholic hospitals ― a charge Democrats have said is unwarranted.
“It would not change one iota of existing law,” Blumenthal told HuffPost. “It would simply codify existing law…this idea that it would require doctors to perform abortions is simply not true.”