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Senate to hold test vote on access to contraception

WASHINGTON (AP) — In an election-year effort to press Republicans on reproductive rights, Senate Democrats will hold a vote Wednesday to move forward with legislation designed to strengthen women’s access to contraception. to protect.

The test vote comes as the Senate has given up hope of passing serious bipartisan legislation before the election, and as Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Democrats are instead trying to highlight issues they think could help them win the presidency and retain the Senate in November. A similar vote on guaranteeing nationwide access to in vitro fertilization could take place as early as next week.

Neither bill is likely to pass the Senate, where Democrats would need 60 votes, let alone the Republican-led House. But Schumer said Tuesday that Democrats “will put reproductive freedoms front and center in this chamber so the American people can see firsthand who is standing up to defend their fundamental freedoms.”

The effort comes as Democrats worry that reproductive rights will be further threatened after the Supreme Court struck down nationwide abortion rights two years ago, and as they continue to see that access as one of their most powerful election-year issues. President Joe Biden’s campaign sees reproductive rights as a key avenue to win over undecided voters, especially women.

Minority Republicans scoffed, saying the votes on political messages were an unserious distraction from the legislation they would like to vote on. “I expect we’ll see a lot more show votes this summer,” Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, said Tuesday.

Still, Wednesday’s vote on whether to move forward with the legislation could put some Republican senators in a tough spot. While most Republicans would oppose any restrictions on contraception, they are unlikely to support Democrats’ political push.

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, one of the few Republican senators who supports abortion rights, said Monday that she will likely vote to move the legislation forward, but that she would like to see the bill amended to include more protections for religious freedom. to take. “It’s clearly a messaging attempt and not a serious attempt in itself,” she said.

The Senate’s push for reproductive access this year differs from bipartisan legislation passed in 2022 that would protect same-sex marriage, amid concerns that the court could go after the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which upheld same-sex marriage legalized across the country. The vote on that bill was postponed until after that year’s midterm elections to avoid political complications. Twelve Republicans ultimately supported it and sent it to Biden’s desk.

However, since Republicans gained the majority in the House of Representatives last year, Congress has moved on some legislative issues that were not immediately urgent or for which there was no deadline for passage. Schumer has repeatedly said he wants to introduce bills to improve rail safety, lower prescription drug costs and improve online safety for children, among other bipartisan legislation. But most of those bills have stalled in the divided Congress as some Republicans and Democrats have been less willing to work together in an election year.

Instead, Schumer has focused the Senate on judicial nominations and political messaging bills, including a repeat vote last month on a border security bill that Republicans had already rejected in February after months of bipartisan negotiations. Democrats, who have faced intense criticism over the border issue, have hoped they can soften the issue somewhat by pushing that legislation. But Republicans believe this doesn’t go far enough.

Democrats have seized on the contraception issue after former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican Party nominee, said in an interview last month that he was open to supporting restrictions on contraception. He quickly changed course, saying he “has never and never will” advocate limiting that access.

However, contraception has become increasingly embroiled in the abortion debate in some conservative states. In Missouri, a women’s health care bill stalled for months over concerns about expanding insurance coverage for contraception after some lawmakers wrongly confused birth control with medication abortion. In Arizona, Republicans unanimously blocked a Democratic effort to protect the right to access contraception. Tennessee Republicans blocked a bill that would have made clear that the state’s abortion ban would not affect contraceptive care or fertility treatments.

And in Virginia, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin vetoed bills from the Democratic-controlled Legislature that would have protected the right to contraception earlier this year. He said he supports the right to birth control, but that “we cannot trample on the religious freedoms of Virginians.”

The Senate bill would make it federal law that an individual has the right to obtain contraceptives and “use contraception,” and health care providers can provide them.

The legislation protecting in vitro fertilization comes after the Alabama Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that frozen embryos can be considered children under state law, prompting several clinics to suspend IVF treatments. The state later passed a law providing legal protections for IVF clinics, but Democrats have argued that Congress should take action to ensure nationwide access to reproductive care to try to prevent courts from making such decisions.

Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said she believes Americans will “keep a close eye” as Democrats force Republicans to vote on contraception on Wednesday.

“Senate Democrats believe that every woman has the right to contraception – whether it’s the pill, Plan B or an IUD – what could be healthier and more straightforward?” Murray said Tuesday. “So tomorrow, every Republican in the Senate will be recorded where he or she stands.”

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By Mary Clare Jalonick Associated Press

Associated Press writer Stephen Groves contributed to this report.

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