Catholic ‘Pro-Life’ Democrat Sen. Casey Goes to Bat For Extreme Pro-Abortion Bill

The legislation would outlaw abortion restrictions that Casey himself backed as recently as two years ago.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.,  shown speaking at a rally in Washington on Nov. 16, 2021, supports the ‘Women’s Health Protection Act.’
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., shown speaking at a rally in Washington on Nov. 16, 2021, supports the ‘Women’s Health Protection Act.’ (photo: Jemal Countess / Getty Images for SEIU)

The Pennsylvania senator said he would move to advance a bill that would outlaw all state restrictions on abortion.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., released a statement last week that he planned to vote Monday to advance debate on the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill that would outlaw all state restrictions on abortion up until birth. This unequivocal support for an extreme pro-abortion measure constitutes a major reversal for Sen. Casey, a Catholic who still describes himself as “pro-life” despite a mixed voting record and whose father was a staunch pro-life advocate. 

“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,” he said, “I will vote ‘Yes’ to allow debate on this bill. 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.”

The bill does not mention any “new and substantial funding for pregnant women, infants and children,” but it would outlaw any restriction “on abortion at any point or points in time prior to fetal viability, including a prohibition or restriction on a particular abortion procedure” and even any restriction “on abortion after fetal viability when, in the good-faith medical judgment of the treating health care provider, continuation of the pregnancy would pose a risk to the pregnant patient’s life or health.” In the bill, “viability” is left up to the abortion provider’s “good-faith medical judgment.”

Remarkably, the bill would outlaw abortion restrictions that Casey himself backed as recently as two years ago, including a ban on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, the point at which science suggests that unborn babies can feel pain and at which some premature babies have even survived birth. He also voted with Republicans to require medical care for infants born alive after a failed abortion.

The bill would go far beyond abortion restrictions that were upheld in the 1992 Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the landmark case in which Sen. Casey’s father, Bob Casey Sr., then-governor of Pennsylvania, fought for a host of state limits on abortion. In that case, the court upheld a parental-consent requirement for minors to obtain an abortion, recognizing the state’s “strong and legitimate interest” in a minor’s welfare. However, in the Women’s Health Protection Act, “parental-involvement laws (notification and consent)” are listed among the obstructions to abortion services. It calls for people, regardless of “age,” to be able to “define and make decisions about their bodies.”

Sen. Casey’s office did not return the Register’s request for comment on his decision to advance debate on the legislation despite the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ warning that the bill “would impose abortion on demand nationwide at any stage of pregnancy through federal statute and would eliminate pro-life laws at every level of government.” He also did not address a query regarding how the bill might generate debate on “new and substantial funding for pregnant women, infants and children,” given that the bill does not mention such funding. 

Sen. Casey has flip-flopped on abortion in recent years and currently holds a 65% rating from Planned Parenthood Action’s Congressional Scorecard. He holds an “F” rating from the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List scorecard for 2019-2025. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said in a statement last week, “Sen. Casey’s flip to supporting abortion on demand is a disgrace to the legacy of his hero father. Like that of Joe Biden, it exposes how the Democratic Party has caved to pro-abortion extremism. ... [W]ith millions of lives at stake in the Dobbs case, he stands with Chuck Schumer and the abortion lobby to advance the ‘Abortion Until Birth Act’ and enshrine an unlimited abortion ‘right’ in federal law — a radical agenda Americans across the political spectrum reject.”

Democrats for Life leader Kristen Day tweeted her disappointment in Casey’s decision, asking, “Surely he is not supporting abortion extremism? Surely he is not saying that prioritizing abortion will bring a discussion about supporting pregnant women. This bill is deadly and dangerous. Take back your account Senator! Support life!”

The legislation is unlikely to pass the Senate even with Sen. Casey’s backing, as it requires a 60-vote majority and there is little likelihood that many of the 50 Senate Republicans will join Democrats in favor of the measure, especially since Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has not voiced support for the bill, and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a pro-abortion Republican, opposed the bill when it passed the House. Her spokeswoman Annie Clark said at the time, “Unfortunately, the House Democrats’ bill goes far beyond codifying Roe and Casey. For example, their legislation would severely weaken protections afforded to health care providers who refuse to perform abortions on religious or moral grounds.”

In a 2019 interview with The Morning Call, Sen. Casey said that “in order to reduce the number of abortions and to have a consensus in the country, you’ve got to be working on these issues that provide a real choice. Right now, there are a lot of women who face a crisis pregnancy, and especially because of economics, choose abortion because they don’t think they have another choice."

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, the chairmen of the USCCB’s pro-life and religious liberty committees, told the Senate in a letter this week that, “in its assumption that abortion can be the only, or best, solution to a crisis pregnancy, the Women’s Health Protection Act is built on a false and despairing narrative.” They added that “answering the needs of women by promoting taxpayer-funded elective abortion, as this bill would do, is a failure to love and serve women. Offering free or low-cost abortions, instead of the resources needed to care for her child, is not ‘choice’ but coercion. It communicates to a mother in need that there is no hope for her or her child and perpetuates injustices that drive mothers to end the lives of their children.”

Notably, there is a wide consensus among American voters in favor of restrictions that the Women’s Health Protection Act would eliminate. For example, according to Gallup polling, just 28% of Americans support abortion being legal in the second trimester of pregnancy, and only 13% support it in the third trimester. Similarly, an AP-NORC poll in June found that “65% said abortion should usually be illegal in the second trimester, and 80% said that about the third trimester.”

When asked about pro-life advocacy for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe, Casey said that “that has been the strategy of most Republicans, at the state level and the federal level, to try to use that pathway. I think the better pathway is to help the mom, or the pregnant woman who might become a mom and the child.”

Given the real possibility of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, pro-abortion Democrats have framed the Women’s Health Protection Act as a move to enshrine abortion access into federal law. While Sen. Casey may not agree that working to overturn Roe is the best pro-life strategy, he could consider that working to advance a bill that ensures abortion without limits may not be the best pro-life strategy either.

Ivan Aivazovsky, “Walking on Water,” ca. 1890

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