Marriage equality wasn’t supposed to be one of Congress’ legislative priorities this year, but as circumstances changed, congressional Democrats scrambled to advance the Respect For Marriage Act, to codify existing protections in federal law.
The politics of contraception access has followed a similar trajectory. Up until quite recently, there didn’t appear to be much of a point to lawmakers considering legislation to ensure access to contraception. But a variety of factors led House Democrats to bring the Right to Contraception Act this morning, where, as NBC News reported, it passed.
The House voted 228-195 largely along party lines Thursday to pass legislation to codify the right to contraception nationwide, seeking to protect it from potential Supreme Court intervention. The Right To Contraception Act, sponsored by Rep. Kathy Manning, D-N.C., would establish a right in federal law for individuals to obtain and use contraceptives. It would also affirm a right for health care providers to provide contraceptives and allow the Justice Department and entities harmed by contraception restrictions to seek enforcement of the right in court.
When the House considered a bill to protect marriage equality this week, the vote was relatively bipartisan: 47 Republicans, representing nearly a fourth of the House GOP conference, voted with the Democratic majority in support of the legislation. It was a timely reminder of just how much the politics surrounding same-sex marriage have changed.
But there was no comparable bipartisanship on protecting contraception access: 195 Republicans voted “no” this morning, while only eight — Wyoming’s Liz Cheney, Pennsylvania’s Brian Fitzpatrick, Ohio’s Anthony Gonzalez, New York’s John Katko, Illinois’ Adam Kinzinger, South Carolina’s Nancy Mace, Florida’s María Elvira Salazar, and Michigan’s Fred Upton — voted with a unanimous Democratic conference. (Two Republicans — Ohio’s Bob Gibbs and Illinois’ Mike Kelly — voted “present.”)
To be sure, one of the principal GOP arguments this morning was that there’s no need to pass the Right To Contraception Act, since no states have tried to ban it in recent decades. That’s not a ridiculous point: As with the Respect For Marriage Act, today’s bill was inherently preemptive and intended to address a potential threat, not restrictions that have already been implemented.
But to pretend that Democratic concerns are entirely manufactured is wrong. As regular readers know, it was just last month when Justice Clarence Thomas explicitly condemned the ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 case that struck down a state law that restricted married couples’ access to birth control, calling for it to be “reconsidered.”
Mississippi’s Republican governor was asked in May whether his state might ban certain forms of contraception, and he didn’t say no.
Though the bill ultimately died, Republican legislators in Louisiana also recently explored an abortion ban that would’ve criminalized forms of birth control.
If GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill disagree with these efforts, and want to leave the status quo intact, they could’ve voted for the Democratic bill this morning — but 195 House Republicans opposed the bill anyway.
Access to contraception wasn’t supposed to be part of the Democrats’ 2022 plans, but plans can sometimes change.