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House passes bill to protect access to birth control in latest answer to Supreme Court

Emergency contraceptive pill sales surge
Emergency contraceptive pill sales surge after Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade 03:48

Washington — The House on Thursday passed legislation that would protect access to birth control, the latest move in a broader effort by Democrats to enshrine into federal law rights they fear could come under threat by the Supreme Court following its decision to wipe away the constitutional right to an abortion.

The vote was 228-195, with eight Republicans joining every Democrat in voting in favor. All 195 "no" votes came from Republicans. 

The Republican members who voted for it were Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, John Katko of New York, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Nancy Mace of South Carolina, Fred Upton of Michigan, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Maria Salazar of Florida and Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio.

The bill, called the Right to Contraception Act, now goes to Senate, where it is unlikely to attract the support of 10 Republicans needed to pass it. The measure would create a statutory right for people to access birth control and protect a range of contraceptive methods, as well as ensure health care providers have a right to provide contraception services to patients.

"We are not willing to play defense on this critically important issue," Rep. Kathy Manning, a Democrat from North Carolina who sponsored the measure, said during a press conference to promote the bill on Wednesday. "We are playing offense."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused Republicans of attempting to roll back the clock for American women by curtailing access to birth control, but declared "we are not going back."

Congress Contraceptives
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., meets with reporters ahead of a planned vote in the House that would inscribe the right to use contraceptives into law, a response to the conservative Supreme Court, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, July 21, 2022. J. Scott Applewhite / AP

"This is their moment. Clarence Thomas has made that clear, right down to the fundamentals of privacy they want to erase," Pelosi said of Republicans. "With this passage, Democrats will make clear we will never quit in the fight against the outrageous right-wing assault on freedom."

The White House supported passage of the plan to protect the right to contraception and said in a statement that access to birth control is "essential to ensuring all people have control over personal decisions about their own health, lives, and families."

Together with a pair of bills that aim to ensure abortion access, which passed the House last week, and a measure that protects same-sex and interracial marriages, the proposal involving access to contraceptive services is Democrats' rejoinder to the Supreme Court's decision last month to overturn Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide. 

Five conservative justices, including the three members appointed by former President Donald Trump, voted to strike down the near 50-year-old precedent, heightening fears that other court-recognized rights, including same-sex marriage and contraception, could face similar fates.

While Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority that "nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion," Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a separate concurring opinion urging his colleagues to reconsider landmark decisions that recognized rights regarding contraception and same-sex relationships.

No other justice joined Thomas, but his opinion, coupled with decisions this term from the court's conservative majority involving the environment, religion, guns and abortion, has prompted Democrats to push back legislatively.

"This rallying call by Justice Thomas and the actions of extremist Republican legislators are about one thing: Control," said Manning, the North Carolina Democrat. "These extremists are working to take away the rights of women, to take away our right to decide when to have children, to take away our right to control our own lives and our own bodies, and we will not let this happen."

The House on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed a bill called the Respect for Marriage Act that would protect marriage equality by repealing the Defense of Marriage Act and providing federal protections for same-sex and interracial couples. While the Supreme Court struck down sections of the Clinton-era law with a pair of decisions involving same-sex marriage, it has remained on the books.

The marriage equality legislation passed with support from all House Democrats and 47 Republicans, including Reps. Elise Stefanik of New York, the No. 3 House Republican, and Tom Emmer of Minnesota, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Like the measure protecting access to contraceptive services, it's unclear whether the marriage equality bill can win the Republican support needed to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declined to say Tuesday whether he plans to support the Respect for Marriage Act, but a growing number of Republicans have signaled plans to vote in favor. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio is co-sponsoring the Senate's version of the measure, his office said, and Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina said he "probably will" vote to enshrine the right to same-sex marriage into federal law. Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have also said they favor protecting marriage equality.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday he wants to bring the bill to the floor and has spoken with Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin, about gauging Republicans' support.

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