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US Senate GOP Blocks Birth Control Access Act from Passing • Nevada Current

WASHINGTON — An effort to strengthen Americans’ access to contraception failed Wednesday when U.S. Senate Republicans blocked a bill from advancing to final passage.

The 51-39 procedural vote required at least 60 senators to advance, but that failed after Republican lawmakers said the measure was too broad and unnecessary. Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, both Republicans, broke with their party and voted in favor of the legislation.

Democrats argued during debate on the 12-page bill that it would provide a safety net if a future Supreme Court rejects two cases that would give married and unmarried Americans the right to decide when and how to use birth control.

Republican senators argued that the vote was purely political and that if Democrats were serious about securing access to contraception for future generations, they would work with Republicans on a bipartisan bill.

Democratic Senator Jacky Rosen of Nevada said the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the constitutional right to abortion in the Dobbs decision two years ago showed women how quickly things can change.

“It showed that a fundamental right, the right of women to make decisions about their own bodies, can be taken away in the blink of an eye,” Rosen said.

Women, she said, cannot rely solely on the Supreme Court to uphold the cases that have guaranteed Americans access to contraception for more than 50 years.

“Contraception has been used safely by millions of women for decades,” says Rosen. “Women are allowed to take control of their own bodies – to decide when to start a family, how many children to have, who to start a family with.”

“For the exact same reasons, the right to contraception has been a target of anti-choice extremists for years,” Rosen added.

Senate Minority Whip John Thune, the South Dakota Republican who is seeking to become the chamber’s next Republican leader, said the bill was intended to “provide a talking point for Democratic candidates.”

“These votes have nothing to do with legislation and everything to do with improving Democrats’ electoral chances, he hopes, in this fall’s elections,” Thune said, referring to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

The legislation was a non-starter for many Republicans, Thune said, because it did not provide for the conscience protections that exist under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The federal law, enacted in 1993 after being sponsored by Schumer, established “an elevated standard of review for government acts that substantially burden the exercise of religion.”

Sale of contraceptives

The Democrats’ bill would have protected “an individual’s ability to access contraceptives” and “a health care provider’s ability to provide contraceptives, birth control, and information related to contraception.”

The legislation would prevent state and federal governments from banning the sale of contraceptives or preventing “an individual from assisting another individual in voluntarily obtaining or using contraceptives or methods of contraception.”

The bill defined contraception as “an action taken to prevent pregnancy, including the use of contraceptives or fertility awareness methods and sterilization procedures.”

House Democrats introduced an identical bill in that chamber on Tuesday, although it is unlikely to come to a vote as long as Republicans remain in control.

After the vote, Schumer decided to schedule a procedural vote next week on legislation that would guarantee access to in vitro fertilization.

Schumer said at a news conference afterward that the vote would give Americans a chance to “see where Republicans stand on the all-important issue” of reproductive rights.

Supreme Court Opinion

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas stoked concerns about access to contraception two years ago when he wrote a concurring opinion in the Dobbs case.

Thomas wrote that the justices “must reconsider all substantive precedents of this Court, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell.”

None of the other nine justices joined Thomas in writing that opinion, likely indicating that they disagreed with some or all of it.

The 1965 case of Griswold v. Connecticut was the first time the court recognized that couples’ constitutional privacy rights extended to decisions about contraception. That ruling overturned a state law in Connecticut that banned access to contraceptives.

The Supreme Court extended the right to make private decisions about contraception to unmarried people in 1972 in Eisenstadt v. Baird.

After the release of Thomas’s concurring opinion, Democrats and reproductive rights organizations immediately began pushing for federal laws that would strengthen current access to contraception. Congress has not yet approved one.

Mini Timmaraju, president and CEO of Reproductive Freedom for All, said at a press conference with Senate Democrats Wednesday before the vote that women should talk to their mothers and grandmothers about when they were first able to get birth control.

“When we talk about the generations of women in this country who did not have access to contraception, we are only talking about my mother’s generation: 1965,” Timmaraju said. “It wasn’t that long ago and that should actually be a wake-up call.”

White House and Biden campaign weigh in

The Biden administration expressed support for the Senate Democrats’ bill hours before the vote, writing in a Statement of Administration Policy that the measure would “protect the fundamental right to access contraception and ensure that women can make decisions take over their health, lives and families. .”

“Women should have the freedom to make deeply personal health care decisions, including the right to decide if and when to start or grow a family,” the policy says. “Now is the time to secure the right to contraception once and for all.”

The Biden-Harris campaign held a press call on reproductive rights Wednesday morning to highlight the presidential candidates’ differences on reproductive rights, including access to abortion, contraception and in vitro fertilization.

Biden-Harris campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez said during the call that Donald Trump, the Republicans’ presumptive presidential nominee, couldn’t be further away from Biden in terms of access.

Rodriguez said Trump’s comments during an interview with TIME magazine in April and his statements to a local TV news station in Pennsylvania in May show he does not support women’s reproductive rights.

Decisions about contraception, abortion and in vitro fertilization are the responsibility of women and their doctors, “not politicians and the government,” Rodriguez said.

North Carolina Democratic Governor Roy Cooper, a member of the Biden-Harris campaign advisory board, said on the call that this year’s election will be a “defining moment” for the country.

Republican efforts to limit access to reproductive health care, he says, mean they are “trying to control women.”

Serious alternative proposal

Republican Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa said during debate on the bill that the Democrats’ legislation went too far and urged the Senate to pass a bill she introduced earlier this week.

The measure has since attracted nine co-sponsors, including Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Steve Daines of Montana, Todd Young of Indiana, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Ted Cruz of Texas, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, James E. Risch from Idaho and John Cornyn from Texas.

Republican Iowa Rep. Ashley Hinson plans to introduce the companion bill in the House of Representatives, according to an announcement from Ernst’s office.

“My bill will ensure that women 18 and older can walk into any pharmacy, whether in Red Oak, Iowa or Washington, DC, and purchase a safe and effective birth control option,” Ernst said. “This Republican bill creates a priority review for over-the-counter contraceptive options to encourage the FDA to act quickly.”

Ernst said she was “encouraged” that an over-the-counter oral contraceptive has been approved and is available, but that should be “just a starting point.”

The four-page bill would encourage the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve additional over-the-counter oral contraceptives and “direct the Comptroller General of the United States to conduct an investigation into federal financing of contraceptive methods.”

The legislation requires the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to prioritize a supplemental application for oral contraceptives “intended for routine use.” But it does not extend this to “any emergency contraceptive” or “any drug that is also approved for induced abortion.”

Access to over-the-counter oral contraception that has been approved by the FDA so that it no longer requires a prescription would be available to people over 18 years of age.

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