- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Senate Democrats on Wednesday began a monthlong effort to highlight their party’s support for reproductive rights and put Republicans on record on an issue that could hurt the GOP in the November elections.

The first salvo in the messaging battle ended in a failed 51-39 test vote Wednesday on a bill that would create a statutory right to contraception, ensuring individuals can obtain birth control and doctors can provide it. Democrats say a federal law is needed because of potential state efforts to curtail access to contraception.

The measure did not receive the 60 votes needed to survive, with all but two Senate Republicans voting to block it. Republican opponents argued the vote was a political setup and the bill was too broad and did not provide religious exemptions.

“This is a show vote where Democrats are trying to distract from their radical position on abortion by conjuring a threat to contraception that doesn’t exist,” Sen. Ted Cruz told The Washington Times.

The Texas Republican is up for reelection this cycle and is one of Democrats’ campaign targets. Mr. Cruz is aware his vote against the contraception bill will be used in campaign attack ads, saying Democrats “will use it against every Republican in the country.”

Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska were the only Republicans who voted to advance the bill. “I sent a message that says I support women’s access to contraception,” Ms. Murkowski said. “If this is a messaging vote, that’s my message.”

Democrats aren’t shying away from the politics of the vote.

“Every Republican will be put on record and the American people will understand where the Republican Party is on the right to access on contraception in 2024 in the United States of America,” Sen. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, the lead sponsor, said ahead of the vote.

He introduced the bill immediately following the 2022 Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson overturning the federal right to an abortion, calling that ruling “a preview of coming atrocities that were going to put additional women’s rights on the chopping block.”

The bill expressly prohibits state and local jurisdictions from enacting laws that would ban or limit contraception and allows the Justice Department and impacted individuals or entities to pursue civil litigation against any perceived violation of the right to contraception.

Republicans said the broadly-written measure provides an opening for too many loopholes.

“This bill basically is going to require all schools, including public schools, to provide contraception to 6-year-olds,” Sen. Rick Scott, Florida Republican, said. “That’s crazy.”

The Democrats’ contraception bill “forces doctors to provide birth control that maybe they don’t necessarily agree with because of their religious affiliations,” Sen. Joni Ernst complained.

The Iowa Republican introduced an alternative bill that would expand access to over-the-counter contraception while ensuring taxpayer dollars are not being used to fund abortions. Mr. Cruz and other Republicans said they support Ms. Ernst’s bill and would prefer to see a vote on that.

The Democrats’ bill could force health care providers to provide abortion drugs, Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn said, calling it “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Mr. Cornyn argued that contraception is available in every U.S. state “and there’s no legitimate effort to change that.”

Democrats said people thought the same thing about the right to an abortion not being at risk until the Dobbs decision.

“To those who say birth control will never fall at risk, go ask the people of Arizona, or Florida, or Idaho, or Iowa, or Missouri,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said. “In each of these states, Republican governors or Republican state legislators are on record blocking protections for birth control access in one form or another.”

Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat, also countered GOP claims about the bill itself, saying nothing in the bill would override the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Likewise, he dismissed suggestions the bill would force access to abortion drugs as “vulgar fear-mongering.”

Democrats are planning to hold more votes on reproductive health bills that could include policies to protect or expand abortion access.

Next week, the Senate will vote on protecting and expanding access to fertility treatments like in vitro fertilization.

Republicans have debated whether to adjust their strategy. Some floated voting to proceed to the bills and then offering amendments to highlight Republican policy alternatives.

“I think in the future, we should find one and call their bluff,” Sen. Thom Tillis, North Carolina Republican, said. “And if we do it, we’ll probably have fewer clubs to deal with between now and November.”

• Lindsey McPherson can be reached at lmcpherson@washingtontimes.com.

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