Senate Republicans block consideration of bill to create a ‘right to contraception’

Senate Republicans block consideration of bill to create a ‘right to contraception’

Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked consideration of legislation that would create a federal right to birth control, after Republicans argued the bill was unnecessary and overly broad.

The vote failed 51-39. It needed 60 votes to proceed to a vote on the underlying legislation.

The legislation from Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and other Democrats is part of an election year push to focus on reproductive rights.

They want to get Republicans on the record opposing those efforts, especially as the GOP struggles with how to message its stance on reproductive rights in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

“We’re gonna have Contraception Day here in the United States Senate, and everyone’s going to be put on record,” Markey said at a press conference ahead of the vote. “And if they say it’s not under threat, then they should just vote yes, in order to reaffirm that right.”

The bill would guarantee the legal right for individuals to get and use contraception and for health care providers to provide contraception, information, referrals and services related to contraception. It would apply to hormonal birth control pills, the “morning after” pill, intrauterine devices (IUDs) and other methods.

It would also prohibit the federal government and any state from administering or enforcing any law, rule or regulation to prohibit or restrict the sale or use of contraception.

“Make no mistake. Americans’ uncertainty about using birth control is one of the many, many shameful consequences of overturning Roe v. Wade,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor Wednesday.

“In a perfect world, a bill saying you can access birth control without government interference should not be necessary, but given the erosion of reproductive rights in America today, it is absolutely vital.”

Republicans argued the bill was unnecessary, because they don’t oppose contraception and there are no efforts to ban it.

“Senate Democrats are using their power in the majority to push an alarmist and false narrative that there was a problem accessing contraception,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said on the Senate floor. “This is not an issue unless their candidate for president is running behind in the polls.”

But recent moves by Republican state legislators and governors tell a different story.

Notably, Democrats point to Virginia, where lawmakers passed legislation that would have codified the right to contraception in the state constitution. Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) vetoed the bill.

Republicans also said the bill was so broad it could be used to mandate abortion drugs rather than contraceptives, and that it violated the religious liberties of health providers and religious groups that oppose contraception.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee sent a memo to GOP Senate candidates this week urging them to express support for increased access to birth control and champion an alternative bill introduced this week by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa).

The bill creates a new priority regulatory designation to encourage development of more over-the-counter birth control methods. The first-ever OTC birth control pill was approved last year and only recently became available in stores.

“With my bill, we’re ensuring women 18 and over can walk into any pharmacy, whether it’s Red Oak, Iowa, or Washington, D.C., and purchase a safe and effective birth control option,” Ernst said Wednesday.

But the legislation wouldn’t extend to emergency contraceptives, which many Republicans conflate with other abortifacients.

Polling consistently shows there is broad bipartisan support for birth control. According to the annual Gallup values and beliefs poll released last year, 88 percent of Americans said birth control was morally acceptable.

More recently, a February Impact Research poll commissioned by Americans for Contraception found contraception mobilizes voters who are currently less enthusiastic about the election, including young Hispanic and female voters and Black voters.

In a March poll, 1 in 5 Americans said they believe access to birth control is under threat, according to the health research group KFF.

Much of that sentiment stems from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas writing in his concurring opinion in Dobbs that the court should reconsider decisions like the 1965 ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut guaranteeing the right to contraceptives.

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