The House passed legislation Thursday to enshrine contraception access in federal law, teeing up birth control as a campaign issue with a bill that Republicans decried as a threat to religious freedom and a “Trojan horse” for abortion.
The House voted 228-195 to approve the Right to Contraception Act, a bill introduced Friday that bypassed the committee system. Two Republicans voted present and only eight Republicans supported the measure, prompting “96% of Republicans” to trend briefly on Twitter.
“Today, 197 Members of @HouseGOP made clear that they don’t believe women have a right to contraception,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted after the vote. “These extremist Republicans don’t want women to have birth control — they want to control women. And @HouseDemocrats are fighting back!”
Rep. Eric Swalwell, California Democrat, tweeted: “195 Republicans just voted against guaranteeing access to contraception … their #WarOnWomen has only begun.”
Democrats argued that the bill was needed to head off a potential threat from the Supreme Court’s conservative majority. Republicans accused the House majority of seeking to score campaign-season points by bringing up a bill that went too far for most GOP House members to support.
Republicans took issue with the bill’s broad definition of contraception, its potential to send additional tax dollars to Planned Parenthood, and its language exempting it from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
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Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Washington Republican, said she supports access to contraception, including making birth-control pills available over the counter, but the bill would “continue Joe Biden’s war on religious liberty and conscience protections.”
“It would force health providers to violate their religion and sincerely held beliefs to provide contraception and perform sterilizations, including on minors,” she said on the House floor. “It would also force the Little Sisters of the Poor to violate their religion and provide contraception.”
The bill defines a contraceptive as “any device or medication used to prevent pregnancy, whether specifically used to prevent pregnancy or for other health needs,” a description that Republicans said could also apply to chemical-abortion drugs.
In addition, the bill protects health-care providers and “facilities” that dispense contraception and gives them a private cause of action against states or government officials that seek to interfere. That would presumably include Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider.
“HR 8373 is a Trojan horse for more abortions. It should be called the Payouts for Planned Parenthood Act,” said Ms. Rodgers. “It would send more taxpayer dollars to Planned Parenthood, freeing up more funds for them to provide abortions and end vulnerable lives.”
Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, a physician who brought legislation in the Iowa state Senate to allow over-the-counter oral contraceptives, called it an “extreme bill.”
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“It’s not just access to oral contraceptives. This bill also [says] that individuals will have access to non-FDA approved drugs and devices,” the Iowa Republican said on a press call. “In addition to which, in legislation, it singles out and specifies physicians who refuse to prescribe contraceptives could be held liable and could be sued. For those reasons, I can’t support the bill.”
Democrats said the bill was needed to guard against the threat of a Supreme Court decision overturning the 1965 Griswold decision, which was mentioned by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in his concurring opinion last month in Dobbs v. Jackson overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
Justice Thomas said the birth-control case was decided erroneously, although the majority opinion by Justice Samuel Alito said that “[n]othing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.”
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kathy Manning, North Carolina Democrat, said it was a “big day for women across America.”
“We heard what Justice Clarence Thomas had to say in the Dobbs decision. We know that taking away the constitutional right to contraceptives is on his to-do list,” she said after the vote. “We were not going to play defense anymore. We went on offense.”
Shortly before the vote, the right-leaning Independent Women’s Voice released an OnMessage poll showing that 86% of “very conservative” voters support contraception access.
“The GOP is for access, while Democrats are apparently for making other people pay for birth control regardless of whether or not you use it, unless you’re uninsured, and then you’re out of luck,” said IWV CEO Heather Higgins.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America president, called the bill “the latest ploy for Democrats to impose abortion on demand until birth nationwide and funnel money to the abortion lobby that is spending $150 million to get them elected.”
Ms. Miller-Meeks was a cosponsor on the Allowing Greater Access to Safe and Effective Contraception bill introduced Wednesday by Rep. Ashley Hinson, Iowa Republican, which would make FDA-approved oral contraceptives available over the counter.
Ms. Hinson offered the bill Thursday for consideration on the House floor, but Democrats blocked the measure.