WASHINGTON — The House on Friday voted to legalize abortion nationwide until fetal viability, and even though the legislation is almost certain to fail in the Senate, it marks a historic victory for abortion rights supporters following a decades-long fight.
The 218-211 vote on the Women's Health Protection Act is the first the House has ever held to set a federal legal standard on abortion, and the first time in nearly 30 years that the House has approved what advocates consider a major proactive abortion rights bill.
Texas' 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 to get the right to abortion enshrined into federal law.
"We cannot rely on [Supreme Court Justices] Amy Coney Barrett or Brett Kavanaugh to confirm our rights for us," said Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., who authored the bill. "Congress must protect the rights of women and pregnant people in every ZIP Code, putting an end to an attack on abortion once and for all."
Since the Supreme Court allowed the law to go into effect, several Democrats, including moderates, rushed to join the bill, Chu said.
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."