If Roe v. Wade falls, Pennsylvania’s pro-life Sen. Bob Casey becomes a linchpin for abortion rights

He was one of two Dems who didn’t join 48 other senators in co-sponsoring the Women’s Health Protection Act.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in December 2021

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in December 2021

Carolyn Kaster / AP Photo
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Bob Casey is an outlier among his Democratic colleagues in the U.S. Senate. As a pro-life Democrat, he wants to limit the number of abortions that take place in the U.S. — but he also doesn’t approve of Republicans’ recent attempts to weaponize the issue.

A draft of a U.S. Supreme Court decision leaked Monday night, indicating a likelihood that the justices will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. Casey responded to the leaked opinion in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

“If this draft opinion becomes the final opinion of the Court, I have serious concerns about what overturning almost 50 years of legal precedent will mean for women in states passing near or total bans on abortion,” Casey said. “Congress should be working to reduce the number of abortions and unintended pregnancies and doing much more to support women and families.”

After the SCOTUS draft leaked, pro-choice advocates renewed calls for federal lawmakers to pass a law that would preserve abortion rights.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Women’s Health Protection Act last fall. The Senate then voted in late February, but the act failed to get majority support.

Just two of the 50 sitting Democratic senators held back from co-sponsoring the bill. One was West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who ultimately joined Republicans (as he has on other issues) and voted against moving the act forward.

The other holdout who declined to sponsor the bill was Casey, who has throughout his political career described himself as a pro-life Democrat. His father, former Pa. Gov. Bob Casey Sr., was famously pro-life.

Casey, however, did vote to begin debate on the act. He was one of 46 Democrats that voted to do so. Six senators, three Democrats and three Republicans, did not vote.

“Given the recent Supreme Court rulings, potential rulings this year, and the Republican Party’s clear and unrelenting use of this issue as a political weapon, I will vote ‘yes’ to allow debate on this bill,” Casey said in a statement ahead of the vote. “I have long worked to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions, and I hope that as part of this debate we will also focus on new and substantial funding for pregnant women, infants, and children.”

Still, Casey’s vote in favor of debate wasn’t enough. The act needed 60 votes to overcome Republicans’  filibuster — when senators exercise their right to unlimited debate, which can keep a bill from being voted on indefinitely.

The bill wasn’t actually ever expected to pass in the Senate, but did create a record of where sitting senators stand on the issue. The vote showed that even if all three non-voting Democrats backed the bill later, it would lack a majority because of Manchin’s vote against.

A look back at his statements and votes provide some insight into how he might respond if SCOTUS does vote to end constitutional protections for abortion.

Unusual stance for a Northeast Democrat

Casey has addressed his position as a pro-life Democrat before. In a 2018 interview with Politico, he said:

“What it means is I try to support policies that help women and children both before and after birth. Part of that is making sure you are honest about differences but also at the same time trying to focus on ways to reduce both the number of abortions and the number of unwanted pregnancies, and I think my record reflects that.”

Casey has said he supports allowing abortion in cases of rape or incest.

He has also said certain measures taken to limit abortions have gone too far. In an interview with Morning Call in 2019, soon after the passage of a near-total abortion ban in Alabama, he said:

“Most Republicans have clearly committed to this … litigation strategy, but I don’t think they’re getting much of a result for it. … The policies that have reduced abortion the most have been wider access to health care, wider access to contraception, programs that support families.”

However, Casey also has a history of voting with Republicans on some abortion issues.

In 2020, he voted in favor of two anti-abortion bills that were sponsored by Republican senators. Both bills failed to advance.

One of them would have criminalized abortions performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy (with exceptions for a pregnancy that is life-threatening for the woman, or pregnancy as the result of rape or incest). Casey and Manchin voted for it.

The other bill would have required health care providers to make every attempt possible to save the life of a child born alive after an attempted abortion. Casey, Manchin and Sen. Doug Jones, a Democrat from Alabama, voted for the bill.

Looking at Casey’s voting record from the lens of advocacy groups shows how split his stance has been.

His votes aligned with NARAL Pro-Choice America 72% of the time in 2020, according to that organization’s Congressional Record on Reproductive Freedom. And his votes have aligned with Planned Parenthood’s priorities two-thirds of the time since 2015.

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