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GOP Senators Block Bill to Enshrine Contraception Protections

Republicans filibustered the advancement of the bill, which would have codified the right to access birth control.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn replies to a question during a news conference on Capitol Hill on May 22, 2024, in Washington, D.C.

On Wednesday, Senate Republicans blocked a bill that sought to enshrine through statutory code the right for individuals to access contraception.

The right to contraception currently exists through judicial precedent, as the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized it in rulings like Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965 and Eisenstadt v. Baird in 1972. But following the Supreme Court’s overturn of federal abortion rights in 2022, many reproductive rights advocates have said there is a need for the right to be codified into federal law.

The Right to Contraception Act would protect a person’s right to “to seek and obtain contraceptives and engage in contraception, and to permit health care providers to facilitate that care,” according to the bill’s language.

The legislation had the support of a majority of senators, with 51 lawmakers in the chamber — mostly Democrats, joined by two Republicans — voting for its passage and only 39 Republicans voting against it. However, that vote wasn’t enough to defeat the 60-vote filibuster threshold, resulting in the bill’s ultimate defeat.

“Actions speak louder than words. And today, Senate Republicans made it perfectly clear that they won’t protect access to contraception,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) said on X after the vote.

Republican lawmakers suggested that the vote was election-year theater, put forward in order to embarrass them when the measure failed and not a true attempt by Democrats to pass a bill on reproductive rights.

“This is a show vote. It’s not serious. It doesn’t mean anything,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said, adding that he felt the bill was “overreach.”

Cornyn also stated that the bill wasn’t necessary because currently “contraception…is not illegal.”

But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) rejected that narrative.

“Today was not a show vote. This was a show-us-who-you-are vote. And Senate Republicans showed the American people exactly who they are,” said Schumer.

Despite Cornyn’s claim, some members of his own Senate conference do reject the notion that contraception is a protected right, including Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee). After the vote, a video of Blackburn from 2022 resurfaced in which she claims that Griswold was a “constitutionally unsound ruling.”

Blackburn was among the 39 Republicans who voted against the Right to Contraception Act.

The judicial precedent protecting the right to contraception is not as shielded as Cornyn suggests it is, either. In his concurring opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, which overturned federal abortion rights, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas suggested that Griswold should also be re-examined, noting that it was established nearly 60 years ago under some of the same rationales that Roe had been.

Contraception is under attack at the state level as well. In Oklahoma, for example, Republican lawmakers have introduced legislation that would ban emergency contraception and potentially forbid intrauterine devices (IUD) in the state. Several states have also blocked legislation that would enshrine contraception as a right in their own codes.

GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump has indicated that he would allow states to decide for themselves what laws on contraception they should have, including laws barring access to birth control.

“We’re looking at that, and I’m going to have a policy on that very shortly, and I think it’s something that you’ll find interesting,” Trump said in an interview last month, adding that contraception should be a “states’ rights” issue.

After facing enormous pushback, Trump walked back his comments, falsely claiming that Democrats had “fabricated” the position he had openly stated.

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