Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. said Tuesday that he would support legislation that would codify Roe v. Wade into law, a dramatic shift for one of the few remaining Democrats in Congress with relatively conservative views on abortion rights.
Casey, of Pennsylvania, said that he will vote yes to advance debate on the Women’s Health Protection Act this week and that he will support the bill if there is a vote on its final passage. He added that the “circumstances around the entire debate on abortion” had changed since the House last voted on the bill nearly three months ago.
“In light of the leaked Supreme Court decision draft overturning Roe v. Wade, and subsequent reports that Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate will introduce legislation to enact a nationwide six-week ban, the real question of the moment is: do you support a categorical ban on abortion?” Casey said in a statement. “During my time in public office, I have never voted for — nor do I support — such a ban.”
The Senate is poised to vote Wednesday on advancing the bill, an effort likely to fail because of Republican opposition.
Casey is the son of Robert P. Casey, who waged a battle as Pennsylvania governor against Planned Parenthood that ultimately led to the landmark 1992 Supreme Court decision Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
After the draft Supreme Court majority opinion overturning Roe v. Wade leaked last week, Sen. Casey stressed that he had “serious concerns about what overturning almost 50 years of legal precedent will mean for women in states passing near or total bans on abortion.”
Characterizing Casey’s record on abortion is more complicated than it is for most of his fellow Democrats. He helped advance the Women’s Health Protection Act this year. But when Republicans controlled the Senate majority, Casey backed a federal ban on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. He also supported the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding for abortions.
Yet those positions have not won him much favor with antiabortion groups that emphasize votes on Supreme Court nominations as a litmus test for senators and Senate candidates. On those, Casey has been consistent, voting against all three of President Donald Trump’s nominees to the high court.
Casey said Tuesday he did not speak with Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), the other antiabortion Democrat in the Senate, before he made his announcement, though he noted he has spoken with Manchin about the issue in the past.
Asked whether his own personal beliefs had changed, Casey said it was “really just about a bill.”
“I do think that when an issue is of such concern to folks all across the country, especially women and their families, you should make it clear how you’re going to vote on a bill even though we’re not at … the final passage,” he said.
Casey added that the labels that have described this debate for a long time — such as “pro-life” or “pro-choice” — seem to have changed.
“I think it’s come down now to [abortion] ban or no ban,” Casey said. “I think that’s the way it’s going to be going forward. And this bill is a direct pushback against an abortion ban, and I support it.”
Casey was reelected to his third term in the Senate in 2018 and is not up for reelection again until 2024.
Leigh Ann Caldwell and Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.