Jul 22, 2022 - Health

GOP senators weigh supporting bill protecting birth control access

Picture of Rick Scott
Photo: Ting Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Some Republican senators say they are open to reviewing a House-passed bill protecting access to birth control, potentially teeing up another surprising bipartisan response to fallout from the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Between the lines: Democrats are eager to force Republicans on the record as not supporting birth control in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning the federal right to abortion — and only months before the midterm elections. But there's a chance that a messaging bill could wind up being something more.

Driving the news: The House on Thursday passed a bill to protect a person's ability to access contraceptives, with eight Republicans joining all Democrats present in supporting the legislation.

  • House lawmakers have been focusing on passing legislation in response to Justice Clarence Thomas' concurrence overturning Roe v. Wade saying that the court should reconsider "all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents," including that guaranteeing birth control access.
  • Almost 50 House Republicans joined Democrats this week in supporting a bill to that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and enshrine marriage equality into federal law.

What's happening: A handful of GOP senators on Thursday wouldn't rule out supporting the House contraception measure.

  • A spokesperson for Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told Axios that the senator will review legislation on the matter before deciding whether he would support it or not.
  • Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who is the vice chair of the Senate Republican Conference, said that she "would need to study the issue more," when asked if she would support creating a federal right to contraception use.
  • Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a conservative viewed as a likely 2024 presidential contender, said that he does not support overturning Griswold v. Connecticut, a 1965 decision that protects a married couple's ability to access contraceptives, and wants to read the House's bill to "make sure it's actually about contraception and not about abortifacients."

The other side: Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) told Axios that he wouldn't back the legislation because it's not Congress' responsibility to pass laws based on Supreme Court decisions.

  • Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said that "there is zero threat of contraception being taken away, it's a made up political issue."
  • When asked about the House's bill passage, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said, "the House passes all kinds of unnecessary bills."

State of play: Senators are working on their own legislation addressing access to contraceptives.

  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who supports a federal right to contraception, said that she is "working on a measure with colleagues" to codify Griswold into federal law.
  • Democratic senators are currently working to see if they can get 10 Republican votes needed to bring up the bill.
  • On the House side, Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa) introduced an alternate bill that would let people over the age of 18 access birth control pills over-the-counter that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Worth noting: Some Republicans might support a bill that protects birth control use, but not necessarily the specific legislation that cleared the House.

  • "I think you’d find consensus in the Energy and Commerce Committee regarding preserving access to contraception if Democrats had only chosen to work with Republicans instead of rushing this bill to the floor a few days after its introduction," said Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), who opposed the House bill.

Be smart: Republican lawmakers face pressure from anti-abortion groups to oppose a bill from Democrats protecting access to contraceptives.

  • Prior to the House vote, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, an anti-abortion group, asked representatives to oppose the legislation, arguing that it "seeks to bail out the abortion industry, trample conscience rights and require uninhibited access to dangerous chemical abortion drugs."
    • Marjorie Dannenfelser, SBA's president, said in a statement that this bill is Democrats' "latest ploy" to protect abortion.
  • Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, opposed the House bill, saying that it goes "far beyond the scope of contraception."
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