Democrats in Congress renew push to protect access to birth control

By: - June 15, 2023 5:48 am

Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, left, North Carolina Democratic Rep. Kathy Manning, center, and Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ed Markey at a press conference on contraception access outside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, June 14, 2023. (Jennifer Shutt/States Newsroom)

WASHINGTON — Democrats in Congress reintroduced a bill Wednesday that would guarantee access to birth control regardless of any future Supreme Court rulings.

The measure would ensure people have the right to use contraception and that health care providers have a right to share information about contraception as well as provide it.

The legislation would insulate access to birth control in the event the U.S. Supreme Court decides to overturn any of the cases that have provided Americans with the privacy rights that guaranteed a right to contraception.

The bill is necessary, proponents argued, because the Supreme Court just last year overturned the constitutional right to abortion that stood for nearly 50 years.

“Millions of people use contraception and they have for decades, and the vast majority of Americans support the right to birth control,” said Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray.

While Republicans blocked the bill from passing last Congress, Murray said, the reintroduction was a chance to show whether they do support access to birth control.

“My message to Republicans who claim to support the right to just get birth control: Now is your chance to prove it,” Murray said. “Stand with us, don’t stand against us.”

Dobbs case

The bill was originally introduced last Congress by a coalition of Democratic lawmakers who were concerned about a section of Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization abortion case.

Thomas wrote the high court should reconsider many of the precedent-setting cases that used the same logic applied in Roe v. Wade, specifically that justices “should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell.”

Those cases are the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut ruling that recognized married couples’ right to use contraception, the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas ruling that invalidated laws criminalizing adult private consensual sexual relationships and the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges case that legalized same-sex marriages.

The U.S. House voted to approve the contraception legislation last July, but Democrats couldn’t get the 60 votes needed in the Senate to move past that chamber’s legislative filibuster.

North Carolina Democratic Rep. Kathy Manning sought to remind people that before 1965, several states had laws banning or restricting who could get contraceptives.

“My bill establishes a federal statutory right for individuals to access and use birth control and for health care providers to provide it,” Manning said. “It protects the full range of FDA-approved contraceptive methods, including birth control pills, IUDs and emergency contraception, like Plan B.”

Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ed Markey said Thomas’ opinion in the Dobbs case gave lawmakers “a window into just how far he could go to dismantle Americans’ freedoms.”

“He outlined a long-held Republican belief that Americans have too many privacy rights under the Constitution and the Supreme Court had erred in recognizing those privacy rights and that the court should take them away, just as it did the right to abortion,” Markey said.

Rep. Sara Jacobs, a California Democrat, noted during the press conference that patients use birth control for an array of reasons, including acne and endometriosis.

She also said that ensuring access to contraception is central to the government recognizing that women have bodily autonomy.

“This is about the government seeing me as someone with human agency and recognizing my right and power to make decisions about my own body that could change the trajectory of my life,” Jacobs said. “This is about the freedom to control if, when and how to grow a family, without government interference.”

State lawmakers at the White House

The White House on Wednesday and Thursday was hosting dozens of local and state officials from both red and blue states to discuss reproductive rights.

A White House spokesperson said that during the meetings, Biden administration officials would talk about “defending reproductive rights, key actions the Administration has taken to protect access to reproductive health care, and the importance of state partners in this fight.”

On Wednesday, the state and local officials from states that have restricted access to abortion will discuss those actions as well as “strategies to oppose these efforts, and the policy agenda ahead,” according to the spokesperson.

The Thursday talks, the spokesperson said, will include state and local officials from regions of the country that have protected access to abortion to talk about ways “to further safeguard and support access to reproductive health care.”

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Jennifer Shutt
Jennifer Shutt

Jennifer covers the nation’s capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Her coverage areas include congressional policy, politics and legal challenges with a focus on health care, unemployment, housing and aid to families.

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