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House Passes Bill Barring States From Restricting Access to Contraception

The bill comes as a response to Clarence Thomas’s warning that birth control could be next on the chopping block.

Associate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas speaks at the Heritage Foundation on October 21, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

The House passed a bill on Thursday that is aimed at protecting access to contraception across the country in anticipation of a potential ruling from far right Supreme Court justices that could restrict contraceptive access.

The Right to Contraception Act passed on Thursday by a 228 to 195 vote. All Democrats and only eight Republicans voted in favor of the bill, while 195 Republicans voted against its passage.

Progressive lawmakers expressed horror that the vast majority of the Republican caucus voted against the bill. “19[5] Republicans in Congress don’t want you to have access to contraceptives. If they had the chance they would ban it,” Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) warned.

The bill, introduced last week by Rep. Kathy Manning (D-North Carolina), would establish a federal right to contraceptive access and would bar states from implementing laws that would restrict such a right. If those rights are violated, the Justice Department and health care providers can bring a state or government official attempting to restrict access to contraception to court.

A range of contraceptive methods, including birth control pills, IUDs and Plan B, would be protected under the bill.

The vote came before the Supreme Court reconvenes for its next session, during which Justice Clarence Thomas has warned that the Court’s Christofascist justices could take up a case challenging the right to contraception, which was established under Griswold v. Connecticut. Thomas also warned that the Court may soon revoke the established right to same sex marriage under Obergefell v. Hodges, and the right for same sex couples to engage in consensual sex, as afforded by Lawrence v. Texas.

The House also passed a bill this week that would federally protect the right to gay marriage and repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which established that the federal government can only recognize marriage between a man and a woman.

While Republican senators have said that the Respect for Marriage Act could have the votes to pass the Senate, it’s unclear if the Right to Contraception Act will have the same support. Opposing contraceptive access is such an extremist view that only a handful of countries still restrict access, and it’s unclear if there are any countries with all-out bans like the ones that some Republicans are suggesting.

“It is outrageous — we keep using that word — 60 years after Griswold was decided, 60 years after Griswold, women must again fight for our basic right to birth control against an extremist Republican Party,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) said on Wednesday in support of the Right to Contraception Act. “Let us be clear: We are not going back. For our daughters, or granddaughters, we are not going back.” Trans men and nonbinary people can also experience menstruation and pregnancy, and also benefit from contraception access.

Pelosi further said that Democrats are hoping to put Republicans on the record about whether or not they support contraceptive access. Some Republicans, in announcing their opposition to the bill, falsely claimed that it would fund abortions.

Revoking access to contraception would be nothing short of devastating. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found in surveys that over 72 million people rely on birth control, and nearly all people who can get pregnant use some form of contraception in their lifetimes.

Medication like hormonal contraceptives is not only crucial to preventing unwanted pregnancies — especially now, as states criminalize abortion seekers and providers — but also to help tame menstrual symptoms, treat conditions like endometriosis and even reduce the risk of endometrial, ovarian and colorectal cancers. If access to contraception were curtailed, it could have wide-reaching and disastrous consequences for the public’s mental and physical health and could deepen wealth inequalities for people who have the ability to get pregnant, sending the country back generations.

In the few countries where contraceptive access is restricted, either by law or due to poverty, people who experience unwanted pregnancy are much more likely to experience poverty or have their career prospects greatly decreased. Fields that require an advanced degree like scientific research, medicine and law also become much more dominated by cisgender men.

Some far right state legislators have already been considering proposals to inhibit abortion access in anticipation of a revocation of Griswold, while some people are already reporting having trouble accessing medication like Plan B due to restrictive abortion bans.

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