Senate GOP blocks bill to guarantee access to contraception

Rich Pedroncelli/AP/File via CNN Newsource

By Clare Foran, Morgan Rimmer and Ted Barrett

(CNN) — Senate Republicans voted Wednesday to block a bill put forward by Democrats that would guarantee access to contraception nationwide, as Democrats seek to highlight the issue in the run up to November’s elections.

The bill – the Right to Contraception Act – would enshrine into federal law a right for individuals to buy and use contraceptives, as well as for health care providers to provide them. It would apply to birth control pills, the plan B pill, condoms and other forms of contraception.

The legislation failed to advance in a procedural vote by a tally of 51 to 39. Most Republicans dismissed the effort as a political messaging vote that is unnecessary and overly broad.

GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins crossed over to vote with Democrats in favor of advancing the bill. Schumer switched his vote to a no at the last minute in a procedural move that will allow Democrats to bring the bill back up in the future if they want.

“This is a show vote. It’s not serious,” GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said. “Plus, it’s a huge overreach. It doesn’t make any exceptions for conscience. … It’s a phony vote because contraception, to my knowledge, is not illegal. It’s not unavailable.”

The vote is part of a larger push by Senate Democrats to draw attention to how the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has affected all aspects of reproductive health – not just abortion – as the election draws closer. Democrats are highlighting the issue this month, which marks the two-year anniversary of the high court’s ruling.

“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,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said ahead of the vote.

Democratic senators have also introduced a legislative package to establish a nationwide right to in-vitro fertilization, which is expected to come up for a vote as soon as next week.

That follows an Alabama state Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that the destruction of embryos could be considered “wrongful deaths.” While the state’s Legislature took action aimed at protecting IVF in the wake of the ruling, Democrats argue that this is only one example of how access to reproductive health care is under threat across the nation.

“In the nearly two years since the Supreme Court threw out Roe v. Wade, our nation has seen the horrific consequences of Republicans’ anti-science, anti-woman crusade that has put IVF at risk for millions of Americans who rely on it to start or grow their family,” said Illinois Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who has conceived through IVF.

Republicans have introduced their own bills on IVF and contraception in an effort to prove that Democrats are unfairly attempting to paint them as extreme. GOP Sens. Katie Britt and Ted Cruz introduced a bill called the IVF Protection Act in May, and Republican Sen. Joni Ernst has put forward a separate bill to promote access to contraception.

“We will have an alternative that will make very clear that Republicans are for contraception,” Senate GOP Whip John Thune said.

Ahead of the vote on the Democrat-led bill, Ernst attempted to pass her alternative contraception bill by unanimous consent, but the request was blocked by Democrats.

Asked how her effort is different from what Democrats want, Ernst said, “It does not include Plan B, which many folks on the right would consider abortive services. Big distinction. We want to prevent a pregnancy, not end a pregnancy.”

The emergency contraceptive pill sold as Plan B One-Step does not prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb and does not cause an abortion, the US Food and Drug Administration has said.

The pill, which is a strong dose of the birth control hormone levonorgestrel, prevents or delays the release of an egg from a woman’s ovary – a step that occurs well before pregnancy.

Democrats have argued that the GOP-led bills fall short, with Democratic Sen. Patty Murray arguing that Britt and Cruz’s IVF legislation would not actually protect the procedure, noting that the bill does not address the destruction of embryos.

“Unlike GOP legislation that would not protect IVF and is only a PR tool for Republicans to hide their extremism, our Right to IVF Act would actually protect Americans from attempts to restrict IVF and would allow more people to access these vital services at a lower cost,” she said.

Democrats on Tuesday focused on reproductive health care during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing titled “The Assault on Women’s Freedoms.”

After the hearing, Murray told reporters that “women’s experiences are too personal for Republicans to spin, and the record of the Republican party is too clear for them to deny.”

The Democrat-led bill to guarantee access to contraception was introduced by Democratic Sens. Ed Markey, Mazie Hirono and Duckworth.

CNN’s Brenda Goodman contributed to the report.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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