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Members of the U.S. Senate face a vote on whether they support contraception access


Members of the U.S. Senate face a vote on whether they support contraception access

May 22, 2024 | 12:16 pm ET
By Jennifer Shutt
Members of the U.S. Senate face a vote on whether they support contraception access
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced on Wednesday that the Senate will vote in June on legislation guaranteeing the right to access contraception. Shown is a packet of birth control pills. (Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — U.S. senators will go on record next month with whether they support legislation from Democrats that would guarantee access to contraception — a right currently upheld by two Supreme Court cases, but one that has been singled out by a conservative justice.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, announced Wednesday the chamber would vote on the bill in June, saying it would help to bolster women’s reproductive rights at a crucial time. Sixty votes will be needed for the bill to advance.

“Now, more than ever, contraception is a critical piece of protecting women’s reproductive freedoms,” Schumer said.

The move to hold a procedural vote on the legislation, which has 49 co-sponsors, came just one day after Donald Trump, the Republican presumptive nominee for president, said that his campaign would be releasing a policy on contraception in the next week.

Trump signals he’s open to state limits on contraceptive access, then insists he’s not

Trump seemed to be open to state restrictions on contraception, though he later backtracked in social media comments.

“We’re looking at that and I’m going to have a policy on that very shortly and I think it’s something that you’ll find interesting,” Trump said on KDKA in Pittsburgh. “It’s another issue that’s very interesting. But you will find it very smart. I think it’s a smart decision, but we’ll be releasing it very soon.”

Trump had been asked if he supports “any restrictions on a person’s right to contraception.”

Trump later said that “things really do have a lot to do with the states. And some states are going to have different policies than others.” That comment came after Trump was asked if he “may want to support some restrictions, like the morning-after pill or something?”

In Congress

The House approved a bill similar to the Senate legislation in July 2022 that was sponsored by North Carolina Democratic Rep. Kathy Manning. The chamber at the time was controlled by Democrats.

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

Senate Democrats tried to pass their version of the so-called Right to Contraception Act the same month, but Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst blocked the unanimous consent request.

Unanimous consent is the fastest way to approve legislation in the Senate, but it allows any one lawmaker to block passage. There is no recorded vote during that process, but there will be next month when Schumer holds the procedural vote.

If the legislation gains 60 votes, it would move on to a simple majority vote.

Democrats were attempting to enact statutory protections for contraception two years ago following the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling by the Supreme Court that ended the constitutional right to abortion. That right was established in the 1973 Roe v. Wade case and affirmed in the 1992 Casey v. Planned Parenthood ruling.

In a dissenting opinion in Dobbs, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the justices should “reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents” that relied on the same right to privacy legal thinking that justices had cited in Roe and Casey.

Thomas specifically mentioned the Griswold v. Connecticut, Obergefell v. Hodges and Lawrence v. Texas cases.

Griswold was the 1965 case where the Supreme Court struck down a Connecticut state law that had prevented married couples from using contraception.

The Supreme Court held that a “right to privacy can be inferred from several amendments in the Bill of Rights, and this right prevents states from making the use of contraception by married couples illegal.”

Those rights were extended to unmarried people in the 1972 Eisenstadt v. Baird ruling.

Polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation, released in March, shows that 45% of adults said they believe access to contraception is “a secure right likely to remain in place.”

An additional 21% responded that they believe it is “a threatened right likely to be overturned.” A total of 34% of respondents said they were not sure.