Watch Live: Senate votes on right to contraception bill

Washington — The Senate is voting Wednesday on legislation to protect access to contraception, as Democrats work to put reproductive rights at center stage heading into November’s election.

The bill, called the Right to Contraception Act, would codify the right to contraception in federal law. For Senate Democrats, the effort has been a long time coming. The legislation was first introduced in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s move to strike down the federal right to abortion in 2022, which prompted concerns among Democratic lawmakers that birth control could be next. Two years on, they’re bringing attention to the issue — and to the stances of their GOP colleagues — as they try to hold on to their narrow control of the Senate. 

“Today, we live in a country where not only tens of millions of women have been robbed of their reproductive freedoms. We also live in a country where tens of millions more worry about something as basic as birth control,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday morning on the Senate floor. “That’s utterly medieval.”

The New York Democrat warned earlier this week of Republican efforts in states to block protections for access to contraception, saying it is “all the more reason to move to protect contraception at the federal level.”

“To those who think that federal action protecting access to birth control is unnecessary, just look at what’s happening in states like Virginia and Nevada and Arizona, where Republicans are openly blocking these very protections,” Schumer said. “I would hope that protecting access to birth control would be the definition of an easy, uncontroversial decision here in the Senate. But the vote will tell all.”

Still, support for the bill is expected to fall short in a key procedural vote Wednesday. Though the bill passed the then-Democratic-controlled House in 2022, efforts to pass the bill in the Senate by unanimous consent have been blocked by Republicans on two occasions. And some Senate Republicans have claimed that the move is unnecessary, arguing that contraception isn’t under fire in the U.S.

Sen. Katie Britt, an Alabama Republican, lambasted the Democrats’ move as part of a continued “summer of scare tactics” in remarks on the Senate floor this week.

“This is continuing the campaign of fear mongering we’ve already seen. Contraception is available in every state across the nation,” Britt said. “The goal of my Democratic colleagues right now is to scare the American people, to scare women across our great nation. It’s not that they believe that there’s a problem they’re truly trying to solve. They’re prioritizing their own short-term partisan political interest.”

Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican, argued that the bill goes “far beyond the scope of providing access to contraception,” creating a precedent to “mandate access to abortion drugs for women and girls of all ages.”

But Democrats presented the vote as a straightforward choice. Sen. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat and a sponsor of the legislation, said Republicans will “try to say they support the right to contraception,” but Democrats were calling their bluff with the vote. 

“This vote poses one simple question: do you believe Americans’ access to birth control should be protected?” Markey said at a news conference Wednesday. 

Surveys suggest that Americans are overwhelmingly supportive of contraception. A 2023 Gallup poll found that 88% of Americans hold the view that birth control is morally acceptable — a greater share of Americans than say the same about divorce or having a child outside of marriage. 

The vote is part of a broader push by Senate Democrats over reproductive rights this month, and comes as just one piece of a larger plan to put Republicans in difficult positions over the issues. Schumer said Tuesday that he also intends to bring a new package to protect IVF up for a vote “very soon.” 

A group of Senate Democrats introduced the package to protect access to IVF earlier this week. The issue gained national attention when an Alabama Supreme Court decision in February prompted providers to halt fertility treatments and brought attention to IVF as a possible new front in the fight over reproductive rights in the U.S. 

The push to put Republicans on the record on issues like IVF and contraception, along with abortion, comes after the issue proved to be a major motivator for voters at the polls in the midterm elections. And though the bills aren’t expected to pass the upper chamber, Schumer made Democrats’ endgame clear. 

“In the coming weeks, Senate 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,” he said. 

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