Senate GOP blocks bill protecting contraception saying it will force churches to give kids condoms

Sen. Josh Hawley
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) Photo: Natureofthought/via Wikipedia

Senate Republicans helped defeat a bill that would’ve made access to contraceptives a legal right. At least 22 GOP senators falsely claimed that the bill would violate religious liberty and provide “condoms to little kids.”

The Right to Contraception Act — which would have guaranteed a legal right for people to obtain and use contraception, including condoms, hormonal birth control, intrauterine devices (IUDs), and vasectomies — failed in a 51-39 vote that fell largely among party lines, failing to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to bypass a Senate filibuster. Before the vote, 22 Republicans signed a letter pledging to vote against the bill.

The bill would have banned the federal and state governments from restricting access to contraception, but it wouldn’t require any healthcare provider or employer to cover contraception.

“There is no threat to access to contraception, which is legal in every state and required by law to be offered at no cost by health insurers, and it’s disgusting that Democrats are fearmongering on this important issue to score cheap political points,” the letter said.

“This bill infringes on the parental rights and religious liberties of some Americans and lets the federal government force religious institutions and schools, even public elementary schools, to offer contraception like condoms to little kids. It’s just another way for Democrats to use activist attorneys and our courts to advance their radical agenda and that is why we oppose this bill.”

No text in the bill states that condoms will be handed out to children or it’s unclear how the bill could force churches to hand out condoms.

Democrats argued the bill is necessary because the Supreme Court could eventually overturn Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 case that ruled that protected Americans’ right to use contraception. When the court overturned federal abortion rights by invalidating Roe v. Wade in 2022, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the court “should reconsider” other past cases like Griswold.

“We saw what the Supreme Court did on abortion, and now there’s a real risk they may do the same thing on contraception,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). “I’m really sick of this idea that the Republicans think they can say two things simultaneously — they can talk to their extremist group and say, ‘I’ll give you everything you want. We are going to ban abortion, IVF, contraception, everything you want,’ and then try to say to the rest of America, ‘Boy, we don’t want any part in that.’”

Warren’s comment refers to Republican efforts to restrict IVF (in vitro fertilization), a process where several fertilized embryos are created outside the uterus and then implanted in order to help a person get pregnant. The process uses multiple embryos to increase the chances of resulting in a pregnancy, and extra embryos can be frozen and sometimes destroyed. Many same-sex couples use the procedure to help build their families.

Earlier this year, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that IVF should be forbidden because embryos are protected human life, and the discarding of unused embryos violates the state’s wrongful death statute. Three states — Missouri, Alabama, and Georgia — have laws granting personhood to fertilized embryos, and a dozen other states have introduced legislation this year that would legally declare embryos as people.

The bill’s language further explained, “Providers’ refusals to offer contraceptives and information related to contraception based on their own personal beliefs impede patients from obtaining their preferred method, with laws in 12 States as of the date of introduction of this Act specifically allowing health care providers to refuse to provide services related to contraception.”

Anti-LGBTQ+ Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) said he opposed the bill because it made the abortion drug mifepristone, which is not a contraceptive, “available in all 50 states no matter what the state law is.” His home state restricts the medication, and legalizing the drug would take abortion laws “out of the hands of voters,” Hawley said.

The bill did not mention mifepristone and only protects contraception, which it defines as “an action taken to prevent pregnancy.”

Republicans worry that banning IVF could bring more pro-choice Democratic voters to the polls in the 2024 general elections. Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, voters in seven states have supported ballot measures strengthening abortion access, even in conservative states like Kansas, Kentucky, and Ohio. Similar measures will be on the November ballots in Colorado, Florida, Maryland, and South Dakota, all of which could help bring out Democratic voters.

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