US House passes bill protecting abortion rights, Senate approval unlikely
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi holds a news conference to promote the 'Women's Health Protection Act' defending abortion rights(AFP)

The US House of Representatives approved a bill on Friday protecting abortion rights, a historic but largely symbolic move that has little chance of passage in the Senate.

The Democratic-majority House passed the Women's Health Protection Act by a vote of 218-211.

While the bill enjoys the support of President Joe Biden, a Democrat, it is unlikely to advance in the Senate, where it faces Republican opposition and Democrats have only a slim majority.

In a landmark 1973 case, Roe v. Wade, the US Supreme Court guaranteed a woman's right to an abortion so long as the fetus is not viable outside the womb, which is usually not until the 22nd to 24th week of pregnancy.

But numerous Republican-led states have been seeking to roll back access to abortion and the House action is an attempt by Democrats to codify Roe v. Wade as federal law, negating any state restrictions on the procedure.

A Texas law which went into force on September 1 effectively bans abortion after six weeks -- before many women even know they are pregnant -- and makes no exception for rape or incest.

The "Texas Heartbeat Act" allows members of the public to sue doctors who perform abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected or anyone who helps to facilitate the procedure.

The Supreme Court, which was shifted to the right with the confirmation of three conservative justices nominated by former president Donald Trump, refused by a 5-4 margin to block the Texas law from taking effect.

Representative Diana DeGette, a Democrat from Colorado, said Congress was forced to step in to protect a woman's right to choose to have an abortion.

She said that in states across the country more than 500 laws restrict access to abortion and 90 percent of American counties no longer have abortion clinics.

"And so today, if the justices across the street won't act to protect this freedom of health care, this House of Representatives will," DeGette said.

"We hope that when the Senate sees that this historic vote has taken place in the House that they will act accordingly," she added.

The Supreme Court is to hear a challenge on December 1 to a Mississippi law that bans nearly all abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy.

The court ruled on the Texas law without hearing oral arguments, and the Mississippi case will be the first abortion case argued before the court since Trump named three justices to the panel, giving conservatives a 6-3 majority.