WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats thwarted a Republican effort to ban late-term abortions on Tuesday as GOP leaders strained to avoid a government shutdown in eight days over the dispute – all against a tangled backdrop of presidential politics.

Up next, in the first of a series of choreographed steps, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., set up a showdown vote for Thursday on stopgap legislation that would keep the government operating through Dec. 11.

But it would also block Planned Parenthood’s federal funds for a year, and Democrats are expected to block that measure, too, setting up subsequent votes on must-pass bills to keep the government open free of the dispute over Planned Parenthood and abortion.

Abortion politics is roiling Congress and the White House campaign as well. A number of Republicans, outraged over Planned Parenthood’s procurement of fetal tissue for scientific research, are demanding definitive action from GOP leaders.

“If Senate Republicans cannot defund Planned Parenthood right now, there is no point in calling them Republicans,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a candidate for the GOP nomination, tweeted last week.

President Obama and congressional Democrats stand as the chief obstacles, with Democrats repeatedly blocking any legislation that undermines abortion rights.

On Tuesday, Senate Democrats blocked a GOP measure to prohibit most late-term abortions. The Senate voted 54-42 to move ahead on the legislation, but that fell six votes short of the 60 needed to crack a filibuster mostly led by Democrats.

Maine’s two senators, Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent, both voted against the ban.

In prepared remarks, Collins said, “Regrettably, the bill before us provides no exception for when the physical health of the woman is at risk of serious harm, the most glaring deficiency in this legislation.

Maine Sen. Angus King, who also voted against the bill, said in a statement that “rather than erect barriers to health care for women, Congress should work to make care more accessible and more affordable.”

Tuesday’s vote was the second time since this summer’s release of videos involving Planned Parenthood that Senate Democrats have derailed an abortion-related drive by the GOP. It was held less than 48 hours before a first-ever papal address to Congress by Pope Francis, who leads a Roman Catholic Church that rejects abortion.

Some Republicans were unwilling to back down.

“We should stand for our principles, and our principles should not be surrendering to the Democrats,” another presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, said Tuesday.

But some other Republicans insisted that an abortion fight that leads to a government shutdown would make no sense.

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