Senate Republicans block bill to protect birth control access

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 5: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) gestures to a reporter for a question during a news conference following a vote on the Right to Contraception Act at the U.S. Capitol on June 5, 2024 in Washington, DC. Senate Democrats, seeking to put reproductive rights at center stage heading into November's election, held a vote to move forward with legislation to codify the right to contraception access nationwide it was blocked by all present Senate Republicans, except Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). (Photo by Kent Nishimura/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 5: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) gestures to a reporter for a question during a news conference following a vote on the Right to Contraception Act at the U.S. Capitol on June 5, 2024 in Washington, DC. Senate Democrats, seeking to put reproductive rights at center stage heading into November's election, held a vote to move forward with legislation to codify the right to contraception access nationwide it was blocked by all present Senate Republicans, except Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). (Photo by Kent Nishimura/Getty Images)

By Sophie Boudreau

June 6, 2024

The bill would have guaranteed the right for Americans to obtain and use birth control without government interference. It would also protect the right of health care providers to distribute information about contraception and provide it to patients.

Amid growing concerns that their party would impose restrictions on birth control if returned to power in the November election, Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked a bill that would have guaranteed access to birth control under federal law.

Iowa Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst voted against the Right to Contraception Act. The bill failed in a 51-39 vote, falling short of the necessary 60 votes to defeat a filibuster and advance the bill.

Thirty-eight Republicans voted against the bill and nine failed to show up for the vote, while 49 Democrats voted for the bill, with one missing the vote. In accordance with Senate rules, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) changed his vote to no at the last minute, which will allow him the chance to reintroduce the bill again at a later date.

The bill would cement the right for Americans to obtain and use birth control without government interference. It would also protect the right of health care providers to distribute information about contraception and provide it to patients. While it wouldn’t remove “religious or personal belief exemptions,” which allow health care providers and insurance companies to opt out of prescribing or and covering birth control, it would ensure that patients have a right to access condoms, birth control pills, intrauterine devices (IUDs), vasectomies, and more.

President Joe Biden was quick to condemn Republicans for blocking the bill, calling it an “unacceptable” decision. He also criticized them for their broader hostility to reproductive rights and vowed to fight back against efforts to restrict access to birth control, abortion, and other forms of reproductive healthcare.

“Vice President Harris and I believe that women in every state must have the freedom to make deeply personal health care decisions, including the right to decide if and when to start or grow their family,” Biden said in a statement. “My Administration alongside Democrats in Congress will continue to fight to protect access to reproductive health care and keep taking action to strengthen access to affordable, high-quality contraception. And we will continue to urge Congress to restore the protections of Roe v. Wade in federal law and safeguard the right to contraception once and for all.”

Birth control is ‘under attack’

Ahead of the vote, Senators Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Tammy Duckwork (D-Ill.), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) released a statement in support of the bill, pointing to increasingly extreme challenges to reproductive freedom from far-right Republicans in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s 2022 Dobbs decision, which overturned the landmark abortion rights case Roe v. Wade.

“Economic, social, and personal freedom are attacked when the right to contraception comes under attack. We’ve seen this Supreme Court willingly overturn decades of legal precedent to peel back reproductive rights, and we are unwilling to stand by as threats to the right to contraception escalate,” the senators wrote.

“This vote will put each Senator on the record on their willingness to stand up for the health and freedom of every American.”

Since the fall of Roe, the future of contraceptive access has been murky, with questions raised about states’ rights to limit birth control methods on an individual basis. States like Missouri and Louisiana have already seen legal challenges to right-to-contraception bills, making the federal right to birth control access feel even more urgent for reproductive rights advocates.

Democrats previously tried to enshrine federal protections for birth control in 2022, when the Right to Contraception Act passed in the House—though 195 Republicans voted against it. The bill was ultimately struck down by Senate Republicans.

Where Trump stands

Former president Donald Trump has yet to issue a clear and concrete stance on reproductive rights, though he told a reporter last month that he was “looking at” the possibility of restricting access to birth control and would consider a state-by-state approach.

“You know, things really have a lot to do with the states, and some states are going to have different policy than others,” he said during an appearance on Pittsburgh CBS affiliate KDKA.

Trump later took to his Truth Social platform to backtrack on these comments, writing, “I HAVE NEVER, AND WILL NEVER ADVOCATE IMPOSING RESTRICTIONS ON BIRTH CONTROL, or other contraceptives.”

The future of reproductive rights

Wednesday’s Senate vote came amid increasing concerns from reproductive rights advocates about the future of reproductive health care. Since the fall of Roe, anti-choice groups have advocated for everything from limits on fertility treatments like in-vitro fertilization (IVF) to enforcing the Comstock Act, an 1870s law that would make it illegal to transport abortion-related materials by mail.

And as of 2024, 13 states have introduced “fetal personhood” legislation, which would define life as beginning at the instant of conception and afford embryos the same legal protections and rights enjoyed by people.

Amid these attacks on reproductive rights, President Joe Biden has prioritized expanding access to family planning services and contraception during his first term, even issuing executive orders to protect over-the-counter birth control options.

He has also vowed to enhance privacy protections for patients seeking reproductive health care and, on a long-term basis, work to restore the federal right to an abortion once protected by Roe. The latter will only be possible if Democrats earn a majority in the House during a second Biden term, retain Senate control, and agree to abolish the filibuster.

  • Sophie Boudreau

    Sophie Boudreau is a writer and editor with nearly a decade of experience covering lifestyle, culture, and political topics. She previously served as senior editor at eHow and produced Michigan and Detroit content for Only In Your State.

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