Contraception bill vote previews next fight over rights

It is infuriating as well as alarming that the U.S. Senate on Wednesday failed to pass the Right to Contraception Act, a straightforward bill that would guarantee a federal right to safe and legal contraception.

The bill needed 60 votes to proceed but only received 51, all but two of those coming from Democrats and independents who caucus with Democrats. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., a staunch supporter of the bill, changed his vote to a “no” so as to allow him to bring up the bill again.

Americans should be appalled that nearly half of the people elected to represent them in the Senate are so spineless they couldn’t vote for something as simple as a right to contraception, which 90% of women have used at one point in their lives and is considered basic preventive health care.

Only two Republicans, Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, voted for it.  Their Republican colleagues, on the other hand, blustered variously about the bill being a political move, too broad or unnecessary.

That’s ridiculous. There’s clearly a movement among antiabortion activists to wrongly redefine contraceptives as abortifacients. And any of their constituents should think long and hard about voting for a senator who won’t support their right to contraception. If it were enshrined into federal law, states couldn’t override it with restrictions. If the Supreme Court struck down its own precedents protecting the right to contraception, the federal law would still protect it.

And that is not out of the question. The Supreme Court has voted three times to support the right to contraception over the decades, but does anyone want to bet on the justices upholding this precedent? The court also guaranteed a right to abortion in Roe v. Wade — and upheld it in a subsequent case — before overturning it in the Dobbs decision two years ago.

Ominously, that abortion decision also contained a concurrence written by Justice Clarence Thomas that suggested the court revisit the landmark 1965 decision in Griswold v. Connecticut, which granted married couples the right to birth control. So there are plenty of reasons to fear that the Supreme Court could withdraw its support for birth control.

The Senate contraception bill does not force anyone to provide contraception. It allows women to access it and health care professionals to provide it. Nor is this bill a slippery slope to condoning abortion, as opponents claim.

Contraceptives are not abortifacients. “The medical definition of pregnancy is an embryo implanted in the wall of the uterus,” says Daniel Grossman, a professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at UC San Francisco. “No contraceptives end an established pregnancy — they prevent pregnancy from occurring.”

So why would Senate Republicans block a bill supporting a right to contraception? Aren’t these the same people who, for the most part, don’t want women having abortions? How do they think reproduction works? Or is this about taking away the rights of women to control their own bodies to curry favor with far-right antiabortion groups who have problems with contraception as well?

We should all work to make sure legislators who don’t support the right to control your own body don’t get reelected.

This editorial first appeared in the Los Angeles Times. This commentary should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the opinion or editorial policy of The Dominion Post.