G.O.P. Blocks Contraception Bill in Senate as Democrats Seek Political Edge

G.O.P. Blocks Contraception Bill in Senate as Democrats Seek Political Edge


Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked action on legislation to codify the right to contraception access nationwide, a bill Democrats brought to the floor to spotlight an issue on which the G.O.P. is at odds with a vast majority of voters.

All but two Republicans present — Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine — voted against advancing the legislation, leaving Democrats who unanimously supported it nine votes short of the 60 they would need to take up the bill, which would protect a reproductive health option that many voters worry is actively at risk of being stripped away.

“This should be an easy vote,” Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, said on the Senate floor ahead of the vote. “It almost shouldn’t be necessary.”

But Ms. Murray said that Republican lawmakers have made it so by seeking to advance anti-abortion legislation that could limit access to contraceptives like Plan B and IUDs.

“To say the future of birth control in the United States is in serious jeopardy is not partisan spin,” said Senator Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii, noting that former President Donald J. Trump recently said he was looking at supporting restrictions on contraception. (Mr. Trump quickly backtracked, writing on social media that he would “never advocate imposing restrictions on birth control.”)

Democrats have been clamoring to codify the right to contraception for two years, since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a concurring opinion that the court “should reconsider” other precedents beyond Roe, including those protecting same-sex marriage and the right to contraception.

Congress succeeded in passing landmark, bipartisan legislation to mandate federal recognition for same-sex marriages. But contraception has over and over again proved to be too closely linked to the issue of abortion to muster enough Republican support.

Ahead of the vote on Wednesday, Republicans dismissed the bill as a political stunt and laid out a range of reasons that they were opposed to it — all while claiming that they fully supported access to contraception.

Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, complained that there was “no legitimate effort” to take away access to birth control and therefore no need for legislation to protect it. He also claimed that the bill “would force health care providers to provide abortion drugs.”

Senator Joni Ernst, Republican of Iowa, said the bill did not have conscience protections for those who are opposed to birth control on moral or religious grounds. She introduced an alternative, Republican-backed bill that she said would include them while expanding contraceptive access.

Democrats argue the legislation would have no practical impact except to mislead voters about Republican lawmakers’ positions on women’s health.

“Let’s be clear what’s going on here,” Ms. Ernst said. “From the Senate to the White House, Democrats do not have anything to run on, no agenda that resonates with the American people. So instead they are fear-mongering in the name of politics.”

Senator Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina, made a procedural argument, complaining that Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, did not work through the normal legislative channels, instead fast-tracking a bill to the Senate floor without seeking consensus with the G.O.P.

“If you’re the majority leader and you’re serious about producing an outcome, you don’t let us know of a vote on the floor four days in advance,” Mr. Tillis said. “You convene people, you try to do a bipartisan outcome. What he did is not how you do it.”

The Right to Contraception Act would prohibit local, state, or federal governments from restricting access to contraception. Mr. Schumer called the Republican arguments in opposition to the bill “feeble and predictable.”

“This bill absolutely protects religious liberties,” he said. “There is nothing in the text forcing anyone to provide contraception if it contradicts their own beliefs.”

Mr. Schumer added: “There’s nothing — nothing — in this bill about abortion. To suggest this bill expands abortion is vulgar fear-mongering, plain and simple.”

The final vote was 51 to 39 after Mr. Schumer switched his vote to “no” to allow him to bring up the measure again in the future. He also set up a test vote next week on a bill to protect access to in vitro fertilization treatments, which Democrats have argued is at risk following an Alabama court ruling that frozen embryos are children.

President Biden castigated Republicans for the vote.

“This is the second time since the Supreme Court’s extreme decision to overturn Roe v. Wade that congressional Republicans have refused to safeguard this fundamental right for women in every state,” he said in a statement.

Many Republicans support legislation that declares that life begins at conception, which could severely restrict aspects of I.V.F. treatment since it typically involves creating several embryos and implanting only one.

Senate Democrats are facing a slog this year to hang on to their slim majority and spent hours on Wednesday afternoon talking about their support for contraception and women’s rights, which they view as their top issue ahead of the November elections.

About 80 percent of voters said that protecting access to contraception was “deeply important” to them, according to a recent national poll conducted by Americans for Contraception. Even among Republican voters, 72 percent said they had a favorable view of birth control, according to the poll.

Republicans on Wednesday said they saw the bill for what it was — an effort to force them to take an unpopular vote. But the vast majority of them did so anyway, a sign of the strength of the anti-abortion lobby that has threatened to downgrade lawmakers if they back a bill that they refer to as the “Payouts for Planned Parenthood Act.”

In doing so, Republicans provided Democrats with the talking point they were hoping for — portraying their colleagues across the aisle as hard-right extremists who want to take away basic reproductive rights.

Ms. Murkowski, who voted to advance the legislation, took a different tack.

“This is a messaging bill,” she said. “If it’s a messaging bill, my message is, ‘I support contraception.’”



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