Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled that the GOP could pursue a federal ban on abortion if the right-wing Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade and Republicans regain control of Congress in the fast-approaching midterm elections.
"If the leaked opinion became the final opinion, legislative bodies—not only at the state level but at the federal level—certainly could legislate in that area," McConnell (R-Ky.) told USA Today in an interview late last week, days after the publication of Justice Samuel Alito's draft ruling in a Mississippi abortion-ban case sparked nationwide outrage.
"If this were the final decision, that was the point that it should be resolved one way or another in the legislative process," McConnell said of a federal abortion ban, which polling suggests would be broadly unpopular with the U.S. electorate. "So yeah, it's possible."
While the Republican leader claimed he would not be willing to weaken the legislative filibuster to push through a federal abortion ban, the GOP's 2017 decision to nuke the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees paved the way for the confirmation of Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett—each of whom is reportedly preparing to vote with Alito to end Roe.
"No one should be surprised at what the leak of Alito's opinion taking away abortion rights revealed. There is a plan, and this is just one part of it," Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said Saturday. "This is why Mitch McConnell refused to let the Senate consider Judge Merrick Garland."
"This is why they eliminated the filibuster for Gorsuch," Whitehouse added. "This is why they pressured the FBI to tank the Kavanaugh investigation. This is why they broke the 'Garland rule' to stuff Barrett on the court mid-election. This is why $580 million was spent to capture the court. This is why the Federalist Society was the turnstile for Supreme Court nominees."
The Supreme Court is expected to hand down its final ruling in the case, which is centered on a sweeping abortion ban in Mississippi, in late June or early July.
McConnell's remarks to USA Today came as Senate Democrats geared up for a possible Wednesday vote on the Women's Health Protection Act, legislation that would codify into federal law the right to abortion care free from medically unnecessary restrictions.
The bill is certain to fail if Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) remains opposed to the measure and Democrats refuse to eliminate or reform the legislative filibuster.
The last time Republicans held the Senate, they tried and failed to pass Trump-backed legislation that would have banned abortion at the federal level after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Manchin joined most Senate Republicans in supporting the 2018 proposal, which garnered 51 votes—not enough to overcome the 60-vote filibuster.
The Washington Post reported last week that "leading anti-abortion groups and their allies in Congress have been meeting behind the scenes to plan a national strategy that would kick in if the Supreme Court rolls back abortion rights this summer, including a push for a strict nationwide ban on the procedure if Republicans retake power in Washington."
"A group of Republican senators has discussed at multiple meetings the possibility of banning abortion at around six weeks, said Sen. James Lankford (Okla.), who was in attendance and said he would support the legislation," the Post noted. "Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) will introduce the legislation in the Senate, according to an antiabortion advocate with knowledge of the discussions."
Though such a bill would go nowhere as long as Democrats control the presidency, it would lay the groundwork for a sweeping ban as the GOP seeks to win back the White House in 2024.
With abortion rights under grave threat, people took to the streets in major U.S. cities on Saturday to voice opposition to Alito's draft opinion and GOP efforts to roll back reproductive freedoms at the national level and in states across the country. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that 26 U.S. states are "certain or likely to move quickly to ban abortion" if the Supreme Court overturns Roe.
On Saturday evening, abortion rights advocates held protests outside the homes of Chief Justice John Roberts and Kavanaugh:
Demonstrators are also expected to rally in support of reproductive rights at the U.S. Supreme Court on Sunday.
"Mother's Day is for us and what we deserve to take care of our families, including the right to have an abortion," tweeted Shaunna Thomas, the co-founder of UltraViolet. "See you there."