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Bill making contraception a federal right fails to advance in Senate

A woman holds a birth control pill in this photo illustration. (OSV News photo photo/Eric Gaillard, Reuters)

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — Legislation to protect access to contraception nationwide failed to advance in the U.S. Senate on June 5 in an expected outcome.

A procedural vote to advance the Right to Contraception Act failed 51-39, falling short of the Senate’s 60-vote threshold to proceed. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who supports the bill, switched his vote to oppose advancing the bill so he can potentially bring it back up in the future.

The legislation would codify the right of Americans to have access to contraceptives including birth control pills and intrauterine devices (IUDs), but also sterilization procedures, including vasectomies.

In remarks prior to the vote, Schumer argued that opponents of the bill expressed concern about abortion and threats to religious freedom, both of which he said were not in the bill. 

“If you believe all women deserve to have contraception then you should vote for this bill,” he said. “That’s all there is to it.”

But Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., argued in his own remarks on the Senate floor that the matter was a “show vote” that was expected to fail without the support of 60 senators. 

“Under the guise of protecting access to contraception — something that is not under threat — the Democrat leader is bringing up legislation that would not only funnel money to Democrats’ allies at Planned Parenthood but would wipe out conscience protections for health care providers,” Thune said. 

Polls consistently show most U.S. adults support access to contraception, and Democrats have sought to tie the issue of contraception to abortion restrictions in an election year. The Catholic Church opposes artificial methods of birth control, but supports couples using natural fertility-based awareness methods for either achieving or postponing pregnancy as an exercise of responsible parenthood.

The vote followed comments from former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, where he appeared to suggest he was open to restrictions, before walking it back, signaling his support. 

Trump, on his Truth Social website, wrote at the time that he does not support a ban on birth control, adding that the Republican Party will not either. 

The day prior to the vote, the National Republican Senatorial Committee released a memo advising GOP Senate candidates to express their support for birth control.

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., and 21 other Republican senators who voted against the bill signed a joint statement critical of the bill itself, rather than contraception. 

“There is no threat to access to contraception, which is legal in every state and required by law to be offered at no cost by health insurers, and it’s disgusting that Democrats are fearmongering on this important issue to score cheap political points,” they said. “This bill infringes on the parental rights and religious liberties of some Americans and lets the federal government force religious institutions and schools, even public elementary schools, to offer contraception like condoms to little kids. It’s just another way for Democrats to use activist attorneys and our courts to advance their radical agenda and that is why we oppose this bill.”

The closely watched vote prompted reaction near the capitol as well. Americans for Contraception erected a 20-foot inflatable in the shape of an IUD outside Union Station in Washington, D.C., to demonstrate their support of the legislation.

In a guide about the church’s teaching on issues including contraception, the National Catholic Bioethics Center describes contraception as “any action that is specifically intended, whether as an end or as a means, to prevent procreation either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse.”

While contraception “is never to be directly intended,” the guide states, its use for “therapeutic means needed to cure diseases is not illicit, even if it results in a foreseeable impediment to procreation — provided the impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that unlike contraception, “the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality.” These are known as fertility-based awareness methods of family planning; the methods are sometimes collectively referred to as natural family planning.

  • Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington. Follow her on X (formerly known as Twitter) @kgscanlon.

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