The U.S. Senate declined Wednesday to advance a federal abortion-rights bill during a procedural vote that could have major implications for Black residents in Georgia if the U.S. Supreme Court follows through on overturning its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision in the coming weeks.
U.S. Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff voted in favor of advancing the measure known as the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would have made it illegal for the government to restrict access to abortion services throughout the country, effectively enacting a federal law that contains the protections included in Roe.
The Senate’s decision likely leaves the fate of abortion rights in Georgia in the hands of the Supreme Court, which has signaled it may overturn Roe in the near future. The court’s anticipated ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization looms large for Black women in the state who, studies show, would likely be disproportionately impacted if a local or federal abortion ban is enacted.
Read more: What Overturning Roe v. Wade Would Mean for Black Georgians
In 2019, 65% of abortions reported in Georgia were performed on Black women, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The state’s Black population is about 32%.
A Georgia law banning abortions from being performed in the state after a fetal heartbeat is detected remains in legal limbo in the 11th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, which is waiting for a Supreme Court ruling on Dobbs.
Planned Parenthood’s southeast regional advocacy division, which includes Georgia, called the current state of affairs an “abortion rights crisis” after Wednesday’s vote.
“We know that a threat to abortion access anywhere is a threat to abortion access everywhere,” said Amy Kennedy, vice president of external affairs for Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates.
“It’s unconscionable that lawmakers out of touch with 80% of Americans prevented the Women’s Health Protection Act, but we are undeterred, and we are not stopping,” she added.
Since federal lawmakers chose not to pass the bill, Georgia House Minority Leader James Beverly said the state legislature is now the “last line of defense to protect access to abortions,” in the state if Roe v. Wade gets overturned.
It was Republican lawmakers in the General Assembly who passed the 2019 “fetal heartbeat bill” and GOP Gov. Brian Kemp who signed the measure into law before a federal judge blocked it in 2020.
Beverly encouraged Georgia voters to elect abortion-rights candidates to the General Assembly in November.
“We are fighting for a Democratic majority because we will ensure women can choose what they do with their own bodies,” Beverly told reporters Wednesday.
Warnock, who co-sponsored the Women’s Health Protection Act, said Wednesday afternoon via Twitter that he was “deeply disappointed” with Republicans who voted to block a final vote on the proposed law.
“We’ll keep fighting,” Warnock said.
Last week, Warnock joined the push for a vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act after the draft Supreme Court opinion indicating a potential overturn of Roe v. Wade was leaked and published by Politico.
Despite knowing the measure was likely to fail, Warnock said last week that a federal vote on abortion rights was still important for the American people to see. A Morning Consult and Politico study released Wednesday shows 53% of registered voters surveyed said Roe v. Wade should not be overturned.
Democrats hope to use that to their advantage ahead of midterm elections in November.
“We need to hear where every senator stands on this,” Warnock said during a virtual press conference last week. “I think we have a responsibility here in the Senate and in Congress to protect what is clearly settled law.”