Republicans in the Senate failed Tuesday to pull together enough votes to proceed on a bill that would ban, nationwide, most abortions after 20 weeks. Democrats moved to block the measure alongside two Republicans, pulling in a 54-42 vote that fell short of the 60 vote cloture threshold needed to proceed.
The abortion vote comes on the same day that Pope Francis is expected to arrive in the nation's capital for a series of events in a three-legged trip in the U.S. The vote also comes eight days before a potential government shutdown that could be propelled by ideological opposition in the GOP to federal funding of Planned Parenthood, a women's health care and abortion provider.
"The American people should no longer be forced to fund the abortion industry; therefore we will oppose any government funding legislation that would authorize or provide federal funds for Planned Parenthood," Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican presidential candidate, wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Cruz was the subject of national press in 2013 when he led a government shutdown effort to protest Obamacare.
Republican Congressional leadership hopes that the 20-week ban vote will be enough of a statement for far-right lawmakers in their party that they can avoid forcing a potentially devastating government shutdown in October. The bill, voted on on Tuesday, would ban abortions after 20 weeks except in cases of rape or incest. Scientifically, the bill is based on the theory that fetuses can feel pain after that time frame.
Planned Parenthood, which receives about $500 million in federal funding each year, was thrust into a national spotlight after a video showing a Planned Parenthood employee discussing harvesting the organs of aborted fetuses was released online. Planned Parenthood has denied the legitimacy of the video, which it contends is edited in a way that is misleading. The organization cannot legally use federal funds to finance abortions.
Pope Frances, who is seen as a figure with political views that run contrary to many Republicans, recently said that all priests can forgive women who had abortions. The pope is expected to arrive in Washington Tuesday afternoon.