WASHINGTON — The House on Friday is expected to vote to legalize abortion nationwide until fetal viability, and even though the legislation is almost certain to fail in the Senate, it would mark a historic victory for abortion rights supporters following a decades-long fight.
The vote on the Women's Health Protection Act would be the first the House has ever held to set a federal legal standard on abortion, and it would mark the first time in nearly 30 years that the House has approved what advocates consider a major proactive abortion rights bill.
Texas's recent ban on abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy has galvanized Democrats to be more forceful in their support for abortion rights and confident in the political upside of the issue.
It is a tide that has been slowly turning over the last decade, amid the election of more Democratic women to Congress, the decline of centrist Democrats who oppose abortion and the proliferation of GOP-led abortion restrictions at the state level.
"We've long been supporters of Roe vs. Wade," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. "We haven't been able to codify it because we never had a Democratic, pro-choice majority [in the House] with a Democratic president, and now we do."
The Texas law — which bans the procedure only two weeks after a person could typically know of a pregnancy — allows any civilian to sue anyone who helps someone access an abortion. It has served as a wake-up call to even Congress' most ardent supporters of abortion rights, spurring the House vote.
Since the Supreme Court allowed the law to go into effect, several Democrats, including moderates, rushed to join the bill, according to its author, Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif.
Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., who is personally opposed to abortion and over his career has had a mixed voting record on the issue, said the court's decision to allow Texas' law to go into effect prompted him to "evolve" on abortion rights.
"No issue has confounded me more than abortion throughout my years of public service," he wrote in the Providence Journal. "Faced with the reality that Roe might no longer be the law of the land in a few months, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot support a reality where extremist state legislators can dictate women's medical decisions."
Even when Democrats have controlled the House in recent decades, there were still dozens of rank-and-file Democrats who opposed abortion, discouraging Democratic leaders from holding votes on the issue. The 2018 election marked a noticeable increase in the number of Democrats from politically contentious swing districts who leaned into abortion in their campaigns.