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GOP senators block bill protecting contraceptive access


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The Senate has largely abandoned hopes of doing serious bipartisan legislation before the election, with neither side wanting to give the other a win.

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans have blocked legislation designed to protect women’s access to contraception, arguing that the bill was just a political stunt as Democrats mount an election-year effort to put GOP senators on the record on reproductive rights issues,

The test vote won a 51-39 majority, but that was well short of the 60 votes to move ahead on the legislation.

It came as the Senate has abandoned hopes of doing serious bipartisan legislation before the election. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and his Democrats are trying to instead spotlight issues they believe can help them win the presidency and keep the Senate in November. A similar vote on ensuring nationwide access to in vitro fertilization is expected next week.

That bill is expected to similarly stall in the Senate, where Democrats need 60 votes to move forward on legislation. Schumer said Tuesday that Democrats will “put reproductive freedoms front and center before this chamber, so that the American people can see for themselves who will stand up to defend their fundamental liberties.”

The effort comes as Democrats worry that reproductive rights will be further threatened after the Supreme Court overturned the nationwide right to an abortion two years ago and as they continue to see that access as one of their most potent election-year issues. President Joe Biden’s campaign has embraced reproductive rights as a key to winning undecided voters, especially women.

“Contraception is health care, essential health care, that millions of people rely on,” said Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Democrat. She said the court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade “foretold more chaos to come.”

President Joe Biden called the Republican opposition to the bill “unacceptable.”

“We will continue to urge Congress to restore the protections of Roe v. Wade in federal law and safeguard the right to contraception once and for all,” Biden said.

Minority Republicans have scoffed at the votes, saying the political messaging votes were unserious distractions from legislation they would like to vote on. “I expect we will see a lot more show votes this summer,” said South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, on Tuesday.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins, one of two Republicans to vote with Democrats to move forward on the bill, said Monday that she would want the legislation to be amended to include more religious liberty protections. “It is clearly a messaging attempt and not a serious attempt in itself,” she said.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who along with Collins supports abortion rights, also voted to move forward on the legislation.

Many Republicans who voted against consideration of the bill said they support access to contraception but believe the legislation is unnecessary.

“The Democrats are using their power to push an alarmist and false narrative that there is a problem accessing contraception,” said Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, the top Republican on the Senate Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee.

Democrats have moved to protect various rights in the wake of the Roe decision, particularly after Justice Clarence Thomas issued a concurring opinion that suggested the court also reconsider previous opinions that prohibited bans on contraceptives, sodomy and same-sex marriage.

But the Senate push on reproductive access this year differs from bipartisan legislation passed in 2022 that would protect same-sex marriage. A vote on that bill was delayed until after that year’s midterm elections to try and avoid political complications, and 12 Republicans eventually supported it, sending it to Biden’s desk.

Since Republicans took the House majority last year, though, Congress has moved on few legislative items that were not immediately urgent or that did not face deadlines for expiration. Schumer has said repeatedly that he would like to move on bills to improve rail safety, lower the cost of prescription drugs and improve online safety for children, among other bipartisan legislation. But most of those bills have stalled in the divided Congress as some Republicans and Democrats have been less willing to work together in an election year.

Instead, Schumer has focused the Senate on judicial nominations and political messaging bills, including a repeat vote last month on a border security bill that Republicans had already rejected in February after months of bipartisan negotiations. Democrats who have faced intense criticism over the border issue have hoped that they can blunt that issue somewhat by highlighting that legislation. But Republicans have said it did not go far enough.

Democrats seized on the contraception issue after former President Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee, said in an interview last month that he was open to supporting restrictions on birth control. He quickly reversed course and said that he “has never and never will” advocate to restrict that access.

Contraception has been increasingly entangled in the abortion debate in some conservative states, however. In Missouri, a women’s health care bill was stalled for months over concerns about expanding insurance coverage for birth control after some lawmakers falsely conflated birth control with medication abortion. In Arizona, Republicans unanimously blocked a Democratic effort to protect the right to contraception access. Tennessee Republicans blocked a bill that would have clarified that the state’s abortion ban would not affect contraceptive care or fertility treatments.

And in Virginia, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin vetoed bills from the Democratic-controlled Legislature that would have protected the right to contraception earlier this year. He said he supports the right to birth control but that “we cannot trample on the religious freedoms of Virginians.”

The Senate bill would make it federal law that an individual has the right to obtain contraceptives and to “engage in contraception,” and that health providers can provide them.

In the GOP-led House, Democratic Rep. Kathy Manning of North Carolina is leading a longshot effort to get enough signatures to discharge a similar version of the Senate’s contraception bill from committee and put it on the floor — a tactic used when leadership won’t bring up legislation for a vote.

Schumer said that the legislation designed to protect IVF access will come up in the Senate next week.

That bill comes after Alabama’s Supreme Court ruled frozen embryos can be considered children under state law earlier this year, causing several clinics to suspend IVF treatments. The state later enacted a law providing legal protections for IVF clinics, but Democrats have argued that Congress should act to guarantee nationwide access to reproductive care to try and prevent courts from making those decisions.

“Democrats will act to safeguard and strengthen IVF access for all Americans, so that everyone has a chance to start a family,” Schumer said.

Associated Press writer Stephen Groves contributed to this report.

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GOP senators block bill protecting contraceptive access

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