WASHINGTON — The right to use contraceptives would be inscribed into law under a measure Democrats are pushing through the House, their latest campaign-season response to worries that a conservative Supreme Court that’s erased federal abortion rights could go further.
The House planned to vote Thursday on the legislation and send it to the Senate, where its fate seemed uncertain. The push underscored that Democrats are latching onto their own version of culture-war battles to appeal to female, progressive and minority voters by casting the court and Republicans as extremists intent on obliterating rights taken for granted for years.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said now that the “radical, Republican-stacked Supreme Court” overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, GOP lawmakers want to do more than ban abortion.
“Those of us who’ve been in Congress a while can tell you that they have been against contraception, family planning, birth control the entire time,” said Pelosi, D-Calif. “This is their moment. Clarence Thomas has made that clear. They’re right down to the fundamentals of privacy that they want to erase.”
In his opinion overturning Roe v. Wade last month, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the court should now review other precedents. He mentioned rulings that affirmed the rights of same-sex marriage in 2015, same-sex intimate relationships in 2003 and married couples’ use of contraceptives in 1965.
Thomas did not specify a 1972 decision that legalized the use of contraceptives by unmarried people as well, but Democrats say they consider that at risk as well.
Thomas and congressional Republicans “are about one thing, control,” said Rep. Kathy Manning, D-N.C., chief sponsor of the contraception bill, which has around 150 co-sponsors, all Democrats.
“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,” she said.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who is close to GOP leaders, said he doubted the legislation could win the Republican support it will need to survive in the Senate. Democrats there have introduced a contraception bill similar to the House version.
“I think it’s pure hysteria” by Democrats, Cornyn said of the contraception rights bill. “It’s not in jeopardy” of being repealed, he said.
House Democrats have begun forcing votes on these and other issues related to privacy rights, hoping for long-shot victories or to at least energize sympathetic voters and donors and force Republicans from competitive districts in difficult spots. The House voted last week to revive a nationwide right to abortion, with every Republican voting no, and voted largely along party lines to bar prosecuting women traveling to states where abortion remains legal.
The House voted Tuesday to keep same-sex marriage legal, with 47 Republicans joining all Democrats in backing the measure. Though 157 Republicans voted no, that tally raised expectations that the bill could win support from at least 10 GOP senators and get the 60 votes needed to clear the 50-50 Senate, sending it to President Joe Biden for his signature.
The contraception bill explicitly allows the use of contraceptives and gives the medical community the right to provide them, covering “any device or medication used to prevent pregnancy.” Listed examples include oral contraceptives, injections, implants like intrauterine devices and emergency contraceptives, which prevent pregnancy several days after unprotected sex.
The bill lets the federal and state government, patients and health care providers bring civil suits against states or state officials that violate its provisions.
Same-sex marriage may have such broad public acceptance that growing numbers of Republicans are willing to vote for it. But anti-abortion groups oppose the contraception legislation, and it remains to be seen if significant numbers of GOP lawmakers are willing to make that break.
Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America said the legislation “seeks to bail out the abortion industry, trample conscience rights, and require uninhibited access to dangerous chemical abortion drugs.” The National Right to Life Committee said it “goes far beyond the scope of contraception” and would cover abortion pills like RU486, which supporters said was incorrect.
Spokespeople for House GOP leaders did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the legislation.
The measure drew a mixed reaction from two of the Senate’s more moderate Republicans.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she was “most likely” to support the measure. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, demurred, saying she was working on bipartisan legislation that she said would codify the rights to abortion and perhaps for contraception.
There are few state restrictions on contraceptive use, said Elizabeth Nash, who studies state reproductive health policies for the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.
Nash said she was concerned that there will be efforts to curb emergency contraceptives and intrauterine devices and to help providers and institutions refuse to provide contraceptive services.