Washington (AFP) -
Democrats in the US Senate were due to lead a vote Wednesday to codify the right to abortion into federal law in a bid to pin down Republicans on the deeply divisive issue ahead of crucial midterm elections, even though they expect the measure to fail.
The move comes amid a political firestorm ignited by a leaked draft opinion that showed the Supreme Court's conservative majority prepared to overturn Roe v. Wade, a landmark 1973 ruling guaranteeing abortion access nationwide.
'If that happens, tens of millions of women will see their freedoms contract in the blink of an eye,' the Senate's Democratic majority leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday.
'Our children will grow up in a world where they have fewer rights than their parents and grandparents had. America will take a painful and damaging step backwards.'
The House-passed Women's Health Protection Act would create a federal statute assuring health care providers have the right to provide abortions and patients have the right to receive them.
But the 60 votes needed to advance the debate towards a final yes or no vote in the evenly-divided, 100-member Senate are not there.
Even if they were, the Democrats don't have the 51 votes required to pass the legislation since Democrat Joe Manchin is opposed to abortion rights, and crossed the aisle to vote with Republicans in February against a near-identical version of the measure.
The only two Republican supporters of abortion rights -- senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska -- also opposed the earlier version.
The move is seen as significant, however, with abortion rights set to be a hot button issue for November's midterm elections, when control of both the House and Senate will be at stake.
'Generally, the people who vote and turn out based on abortion policy are those who support more restrictions on abortion rights,' said Shana Gadarian, professor of political science at Syracuse University.
'By striking down Roe, this is likely to create a new constituency of pro-choice voters who are activated to turn out and donate in ways that they would not normally in a midterm election.'
- Day of action -
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has suggested a federal abortion ban is 'possible' if Roe is overturned.
Democrats seized on the remark, arguing that highlighting their disagreement with Republicans could help them in the midterms, with the majority of Americans supporting abortion rights.
'If we are not successful, then we go to the ballot box,' Senator Amy Klobuchar told ABC on Sunday.
'We march straight to the ballot box, and the women of this country and the men who stand with them will vote like they've never voted before.'
Meanwhile, activism around the issue is becoming increasingly acrimonious, with angry protesters in favor of abortion rights gathering at the homes of Supreme court justices in Washington.
Multiple organizations that support abortion rights have called for a 'massive day of action' on Saturday, with marches in New York, Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles, as well as hundreds of smaller events nationwide.
Police in the nation's capital, still on edge after Congress was attacked by a mob of former president Donald Trump's supporters in 2021, have set up temporary fencing around the court.
The leaked opinion is also spawning renewed calls by Democrats and progressives to add justices to the court, fueled by the possibility that the justices will not stop with Roe v. Wade and could overturn other landmark decisions.