The Senate failed Monday to advance a Republican-led measure to halt federal aid to Planned Parenthood, but leaders of the GOP-controlled chamber appear ready to continue the fight, galvanized by a series of unsettling videos about the group.
The vote to bring debate on the bill was 53-46, shy of the 60 votes needed to advance.
The measure had not been expected to get the 60 votes needed to move it toward a final vote because Republicans needed several “yeas” from Democrats, who largely support Planned Parenthood.
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin was among the Democrats who voted to defund the group. Manchin, whose state has increasingly become more Republican leaning, was undecided until a few hours before the vote.
“I am very troubled by the callous behavior of Planned Parenthood staff in (the) recently released videos, which casually discuss the sale, possibly for profit, of fetal tissue after an abortion,” he said before voting. “Until these allegations have been answered and resolved, I do not believe that taxpayer money should be used to fund this organization.”
Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly was the only other Democrat to vote yes. The only Republicans to vote no were Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He voted no so he could again bring up the measure.
On the GOP side, Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa said, "The American taxpayer should not be asked to fund an organization like Planned Parenthood that has shown a sheer disdain for human dignity and complete disregard for women and their babies."
The first of the videos were released late last month and show group officials negotiating the price of aborted fetal tissue for research.
Federal law prohibits the sale of fetal tissue for profit. And whether the officials were indeed negotiating a for-profit price, as critics charge, may never be settled.
Planned Parenthood says it only recovers costs of the procedures and gives the tissue to researchers only with a mother's advance consent.
However, the videos have sparked renewed efforts by pro-life organizations and others to restrict abortions and undermine Planned Parenthood.
The group provides abortions and such health and family-planning services as contraception and sexual-disease treatment to roughly 2.7 million people annually, mostly women.
By law, federal funds are already barred from being used for abortions except for cases of incest, rape or when a woman's life is in danger.
The White House says it would block legislation to defund the group.
Still, Republicans could try to gain leverage for the defund effort when Congress returns from August recess by threating to vote against spending bills to keep the government running after Sept. 30 if they include Planned Parenthood funds.
GOP leaders are reluctant to force a shutdown fight that could haunt them in the 2016 elections.
In 2013, firebrand Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, now a 2016 presidential candidate, led a showdown against Washington Democrats over funding for ObamaCare that resulted in a partial government shutdown that voters largely blamed on Republicans.
Planned Parenthood leader Cecile Richards told Fox News on Monday that a shutdown effort would be “politically unpopular” but that her group would be prepared for such a fight.
The furtively recorded videos released in July -- with close-ups of aborted fetal organs and Planned Parenthood officials describing how "I'm not going to crush that part" -- have forced the group and its Democratic champions into a defensive crouch.
Democrats are sounding a theme they have employed in recent elections, characterizing the GOP drive as an assault on health care for women.
"It's our obligation to protect our wives, our sisters, our daughters, our granddaughters" from the GOP's "absurd policies," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev, said before the vote. "The Republican Party has lost its moral compass."
The videos were made by anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress, which has so far released four videos in which people posing as representatives of a company that purchases fetal tissue converse with Planned Parenthood officials.
In the longer term, GOP leaders are hoping that three congressional committees' investigations, plus probes in several states and the expected release of additional videos, will produce evidence of PlannedParenthood wrongdoing and make it harder for Democrats to defend the organization.
Their measure calls for funneling Planned Parenthood’s federal dollars to other providers of health care to women, including hospitals, state and local agencies and federally financed community health centers.
Republicans say that transfer would enable women to continue receiving the health care they need because PlannedParenthood's nearly 700 clinics are far outnumbered by other providers.
PlannedParenthood and Democrats contest that. They say many of the organization's centers are in areas with few alternatives for reproductive health care or for other services for the low-income women who comprise a majority of its clients.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.