Murkowski helps block a bill to protect abortion rights, drawing scorn from Democrats

two people pose with a cardboard cutout of a politician
Erin Jackson Hill (left), Moira Pyhala and Marmalade the dog pose with a cardboard cutout of Sen. Lisa Murkowski and a sign that reads, “Hey Lisa, pass the Women’s Healthcare Protection Act.” Roughly 200 people gathered at rush hour on May 3 in Anchorage to rally for the protection of reproductive rights. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

Sen. Lisa Murkowski voted Wednesday against advancing a Democratic bill that would protect abortion rights in federal law if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. 

“I will be opposing the Democrats’ bill that goes far beyond just straight codification of Roe,” she said just before the vote. “And I will continue to try to work to ensure that we are protecting a woman’s right to choose.”

The bill needed 60 votes to advance past a filibuster. It got just 49, all from Democrats.

The Alaska Democratic Party expressed their disapproval on social media by posting an image of Murkowski and a snake.

“I think she’s doing what she always does,” said Lindsay Kavanaugh, the party’s executive director,  “which is trying to appease both sides. And too scared to take a stand, and it’s disappointing.”

The Democrats’ bill would expand on the rights established by Roe v. Wade and would invalidate a panoply of state laws that add barriers to abortion. It would, for instance, not allow any abortion restrictions that don’t include exceptions to preserve a patient’s life or health. It also says that governments can’t restrict a health care provider’s ability to prescribe abortion-inducing drugs, or to provide abortion services remotely, by telemedicine.

Murkowski and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine are the only Republican senators who often vote for abortion rights. They have their own abortion rights bill, which has not advanced since it was introduced in February and hasn’t attracted any other co-sponsors. It adheres closely to Roe v. Wade and a 1992 decision called Planned Parenthood vs. Casey. Their bill says governments can’t impose an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to choose abortion before the fetus is viable outside of her body, echoing language from the Casey decision.

Among her objections to the Democratic bill, Murkowski said that it does not protect healthcare providers who refuse to perform abortions based on religious beliefs. Democrats dispute that.

“It also allows late-term abortions without any notable restrictions,” Murkowski said in a written statement explaing her view.

Sen. Dan Sullivan, like all Republicans, voted not to advance the abortion rights bill. His office did not respond to an email asking whether he favors any federal legislation on abortion.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has suggested that if Republicans win the Senate in November, they might enact a nationwide ban on the procedure.

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Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org.

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