Democrats back Republicans into a corner and shine light on extremist stances on contraception

Only two Republican senators agreed to bring the Right to Contraception Act to a vote

Alex Woodward,Eric Garcia
Wednesday 05 June 2024 21:44 BST
Senate Democrats introduce legislation to protect birth control access

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Nearly every Senate Republican refused to support a measure that would protect the right to contraception in the United States while GOP lawmakers across the country are blocking efforts to ensure access to birth control.

Two years after the Supreme Court revoked a constitutional right to abortion care, a bill to enshrine contraception access into law failed to reach the floor of the upper chamber of Congress on Wednesday.

The Right to Contraception Act – which passed in the House of Representatives in 2022 one month after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade – would establish statutory rights for people to obtain and use birth control and for doctors to provide it, while protecting the availability of oral and emergency contraceptives and intrauterine devices.

Only two Republicans – Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski – voted in favor of bringing the bill to the floor.

The measure needed 60 votes to head to a vote on the bill but failed by a vote of 51-39. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer changed his vote to a “no” in the hopes of bringing it up again at another date.

A companion measure in the House has more than 200 cosponsors, but the Republican-controlled chamber is unlikely to bring it to a vote.

Republican lawmakers have criticized the measure as an election year stunt, designed to rally voters around unfounded fears about threats to reproductive healthcare. But Democratic officials and abortion rights advocates have warned that contraception access is hanging by a thread without federal protections.

“We should make it clear what our stance is on this, and I think that this shows what the differences are between Republicans and Democrats on this important issue,” Minnesota Democratic Senator Tina Smith told The Independent.

“One of the most important issues is whether women have the freedom to control their own bodies in their own lives. And that’s what contraception is all about.”

Hannah Tuohy and Meghan Ravi with the group, Americans for Contraception, take a selfie in front of an inflatable IUD on Capitol Hill on June 5, 2024
Hannah Tuohy and Meghan Ravi with the group, Americans for Contraception, take a selfie in front of an inflatable IUD on Capitol Hill on June 5, 2024 (REUTERS)

“Certainly when something is supported by 80 percent of the American public, you would hope that just that alone would lead to consideration of it,” Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin told The Independent.

President Joe Biden called the failed vote “unacceptable.”

“Republican elected officials’ extreme agenda – which is at odds with the majority of Americans – continues to undermine access to reproductive health care, from abortion to contraception to in vitro fertilization,” he said in a statement.

The Senate bill’s introduction follows a wave of anti-abortion laws and threats to reproductive healthcare across the US in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

GOP lawmakers in Louisiana and Missouri recently blocked measures to widen access to birth control drugs by falsely claiming they induce abortions. Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin also recently vetoed a bill that would ensure access to contraception so he would not “trample on the religious freedoms of Virginians.”

In Idaho, an influential conservative Christian think tank falsely labeled intrauterine devices as “abortifacients” in a January policy paper outlining the group’s plans “now that we’ve successfully eliminated elective abortion.”

Last month, Louisiana’s governor approved a first-in-the-nation law that classifies abortion drugs as controlled dangerous substances, similar to narcotics. Florida law effectively banning abortion access after six weeks of pregnancy also went into effect last month.

Nearly two years after Kansas voters sent a resounding message to enshrine the right to abortion in the state, Republican lawmakers in January filed sweeping legislation that would effectively outlaw access and allow lawsuits against anyone who helped people seek abortion care.

“This is not a show vote,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters outside the Capitol on Wednesday. “This is a show-us-who-you-are vote.”

Senate Democrats hold a news conference on reproductive rights legislation on June 5, 2024
Senate Democrats hold a news conference on reproductive rights legislation on June 5, 2024 (EPA)

In remarks on the Senate floor, he pinned the fractured state of reproductive healthcare across the country on “the mess that Donald Trump, the MAGA Supreme Court and Republican-led Senate have created.”

“We live in a country where not only tens of millions of women have been robbed of their reproductive freedoms, we also live in a country where tens of millions more worry about something as basic as birth control,” he said.

“That’s utterly medieval. It’s sickening.”

Republican Senators falsely claimed that the bill would “funnel” money to abortion providers and “mandate” the use of abortion drugs. Joni Ernst of Iowa called the Democratic measure “fear-mongering.”

“It’s just a messaging piece,” Oklahoma Republican James Lankford told The Independent. “The presidential election is coming. Senate elections are coming.”

But supporters said one need only look to the Supreme Court to brace for potential threats to birth control access.

In his concurring opinion in the Dobbs decision, Justice Clarence Thomas said that the court “should reconsider” some of its previous decisions – including one that protects access to birth control.

The nation’s high court is now imminently expected to announce a decision on whether to revoke approval of a widely used abortion drug.

Meanwhile, Trump – the likely Republican nominee for president – recently suggested in a TV interview that he is “looking at” restrictions to birth control access. He later walked back his comments in an all-caps message on his Truth Social account: “I HAVE NEVER, AND WILL NEVER ADVOCATE IMPOSING RESTRICTIONS ON BIRTH CONTROL, or other contraceptives.”

Eric Garcia reports from Washington DC

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