Published January 6, 2021
If Jon Ossoff has indeed defeated Republican senator David Perdue in Georgia, which seems likely as of this writing, the incoming Senate will be split exactly in half between Republicans and Democrats, with Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote.
This state of affairs will make moderate senators in both parties — West Virginia senator Joe Manchin on the left and Senators Susan Collins (R., Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska) on the right — more powerful than they’ve ever been.
As an increasing number of politicians in his party advocate radical changes such as abolishing the legislative filibuster, expanding Supreme Court, and adding new states to the union, Manchin will serve as a crucial, balancing swing vote in the Senate. The incoming House of Representatives is more closely divided than was expected, which might moderate the legislation coming out of the lower chamber, but with two Democratic wins in Georgia, Democratic control of the Senate puts a whole new range of issues within reach for the left this Congress.
One area where Manchin has long thwarted his party’s reigning ideology is on abortion. Manchin calls himself pro-life, which tracks well with his state’s brand of Democratic voters; it’s hard to imagine he’d remain popular among West Virginia’s socially conservative Democrats if he ran to the left along with his colleagues.
Unlike Joe Biden, who also refers to himself as pro-life, Manchin votes like he actually means it. For last session, Manchin earned a 100 percent rating from the pro-life lobbying group Democrats for Life. Meanwhile, he maintains just a 50 percent rating from Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
During his time in Congress, Manchin has voted in favor of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would prohibit abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation based on research suggesting that unborn children are capable of feeling pain by that point in development. He has voted twice in favor of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which would require doctors to care for babies delivered alive after a failed abortion attempt the same way they would treat any other newborn of the same gestational age.
Manchin has also voted several times in favor of maintaining conscience protections for pro-life taxpayers so that they aren’t forced to fund elective abortion procedures. He supports the pro-life effort to remove federal funding from Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider.
All of these votes were admirable, especially considering the Democratic Party’s steady march in the opposite direction toward unregulated, federally funded abortion on demand. But in none of those votes was Manchin the deciding factor. ,When he sided with the GOP on those bills, the measures were either already doomed by lack of sufficient bipartisan support or they had enough support already that his vote wouldn’t be the one to put the measure over the edge.
That is not to say that Manchin can be expected to abandon his pro-life stance now that his vote appears to matter more. He could very well choose to maintain his support for abortion restrictions and protections for unborn children and taxpayers’ rights, especially given the views of his constituents. But it’s no sure thing.
Incoming Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) certainly won’t bring major pro-life legislation to the floor, but the Senate could well consider legislation to reject the Hyde amendment, a long-standing bipartisan policy ensuring that federal welfare funding cannot directly reimburse abortion providers for the cost of abortions.
Likewise, it remains an open question how Manchin would vote on President Joe Biden’s Cabinet or judicial nominees, including in cases where the picks have demonstrated intense commitment to social progressivism — for example, his choice to nominate California attorney general Xavier Becerra to head the Health and Human Services Department.
In those cases, Manchin’s long-time pro-life witness would be put to the test, and his choice to stand firm would be especially courageous.
Alexandra DeSanctis is a staff writer for National Review and a visiting fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.