WASHINGTON– The right to use contraceptives would be enshrined in law under a measure Democrats are pushing through the House, their latest response of the campaign season to concerns that a conservative Supreme Court that has stripped federal rights to abortion can go further.
The House planned to vote on the legislation on Thursday and send it to the Senate, where its fate seemed uncertain. The push underscored that Democrats are clinging to their own version of the battles over culture to appeal to female, progressive and minority voters by portraying the court and Republicans as extremists bent on wiping out rights taken for granted for years.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said now that the “radical, Republican Supreme Court” overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, GOP lawmakers want to do more than ban abortion.
“Those of us who have been in Congress for a while can tell you that we have been against birth control, family planning, birth control all the time,” said Pelosi, D-Calif. “This is their moment. Clarence Thomas has made that clear. They are at the foundations of privacy that they want to erase.
In his overthrowing opinion Roe v. Wade last month, Judge Clarence Thomas wrote that the court should now consider other precedents. He cited rulings that affirmed the rights of same-sex marriage in 2015, intimate same-sex relationships in 2003, and the use of contraceptives by married couples in 1965.
Thomas did not elaborate on a 1972 ruling that also legalized the use of contraceptives by unmarried people, but Democrats say they see that as a risk as well.
Thomas and congressional Republicans “are on one thing, control,” said Rep. Kathy Manning, DN.C., lead sponsor of the birth control bill, which has about 150 co-sponsors, all Democrats.
“These extremists are trying to deprive women of their rights, to deprive us of our right to decide when to have children, to deprive us of our right to control our own lives and our own bodies. And we won’t let that happen,” she said.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who is close to GOP leaders, said he doubts the legislation can win the Republican support it will need to survive in the Senate. Democrats introduced a contraception bill there similar to the House version.
“I think that’s pure hysteria” on the part of Democrats, Cornyn said of the contraceptive rights bill. “It’s not in danger” of being repealed, he said.
House Democrats have begun to force votes on these and other privacy-related issues, hoping for long-term victories or at least to energize sympathetic voters and donors and force Republicans from competitive districts in tough locations. The House voted last week to revive a national abortion right, with every Republican voting no, and voted largely along party lines to ban prosecution of women who travel to states where abortion remains legal.
The House voted on Tuesday to uphold the legality of same-sex marriage, with 47 Republicans joining all Democrats in supporting the measure. Although 157 Republicans voted no, that tally raised hopes that the bill could win the support of at least 10 GOP senators and get the 60 votes needed to clear the Senate 50-50, in the sending to President Joe Biden for his signature.
The Contraception Bill explicitly authorizes the use of contraceptives and gives the medical community the right to supply them, covering “any device or medicine used to prevent pregnancy”. Examples listed include oral contraceptives, injections, implants such as intrauterine devices, and emergency contraceptives, which prevent pregnancy for several days after unprotected sex.
The bill allows the federal and state governments, patients and health care providers to bring civil suits against states or state officials who violate its provisions.
Same-sex marriage may be so widely accepted by the public that a growing number of Republicans are willing to vote for it. But anti-abortion groups oppose birth control legislation, and it remains to be seen whether a significant number of GOP lawmakers are willing to take that break.
Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America said the legislation “aims to bail out the abortion industry, trample on conscience rights, and demand unfettered access to unsafe abortion chemical drugs.” The National Right to Life Committee said it “goes well beyond the scope of contraception” and would cover abortion pills like RU486, which supporters have called incorrect.
Spokespersons for House GOP leaders did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the legislation.
The measure drew a mixed reaction from two of the most moderate Republicans in the Senate.
Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she was “very likely” to support the measure. Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, opposed, saying she was working on bipartisan legislation that she said would codify the right to abortion and possibly for contraception.
There are few state restrictions on contraceptive use, said Elizabeth Nash, who studies state reproductive health policies for the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.
Nash said she is concerned that there are efforts to limit emergency contraceptives and intrauterine devices and to help providers and institutions refuse to provide contraceptive services.