Iowa senators voting against birth control part of a pattern

Iowa senators voting against birth control part of a pattern

Left: Sen. Chuck Grassley in 2022 Pat Rynard/Iowa Starting Line Right: Sen. Joni Ersnt speaking in DC in 2022. AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

By Nikoel Hytrek

June 14, 2024

Republicans say they support birth control access, but for years they’ve failed to vote on protections to guarantee access stays safe.

When the federal Right to Contraceptive Act failed in the US Senate last week, state Sen. Zach Wahls, a Democrat representing Coralville, saw a parallel to what happened when Iowa Democrats introduced a Right to Contraceptive Act for Iowa.

“Earlier this year, Senate Democrats introduced this legislation to codify Iowans right to access and obtain contraception. Senate Republicans refused to even consider the bill,” he said.

Wahls was one of the main proponents of the bill in the Iowa Senate.

Both bills would guarantee the right to obtain and use contraceptives and the right of health-care providers to provide contraceptives, contraception, and information about preventing pregnancy. Both bills cover methods from the pill, intra-uterine devices (IUDs), condoms, emergency contraceptives like Plan B, and more.

In Iowa, the bill never got a subcommittee hearing, which is the first step of a bill being seriously considered.

Wahls said his best guess for why Republicans in Iowa didn’t take up the legislation is that they feel pressure from extreme parts of their base not to.

“They know that they’re catering to this really radical anti-abortion element within their own party and their own base,” he said. “And that’s a really, really big problem.”

The law did make it to the US Senate floor for a vote, and 38 Senate Republicans voted against the bill, including US Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst of Iowa.

“In Iowa, we have seen firsthand the challenges of passing state-level protections for essential health care like contraception,” said state Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott (D-West Des Moines) after the US Senate vote. “The federal Right to Contraception Act is vital to prevent states and the courts from undermining these critical healthcare rights.”

Ernst and other Republicans have accused Democrats of “fearmongering” and said birth control isn’t under attack.

However, anti-abortion groups and Republican politicians are chipping away at access to contraception in other states. There’s a movement to falsely say some common types of birth control cause abortions and bills to expand access to birth control have failed in states run by Republicans.

In many of these places, the people behind these attacks are also part of the coalition that organized for decades to overturn Roe v Wade, which was accomplished in 2022.

“The very natural question is: what’s next?” Wahls said. “Because when you have 50 years of momentum toward something, if you think they’re going to stop at that single point, that’s just obviously self-evidently incorrect.”

“Look at where the energy was for their coalition on this issue,” he continued. “It came from the most ardently anti-abortion folks. And if you ask those same people, ‘What do you think about IUDs? What do you think about plan B?’ They’ll be very clear. They strongly oppose those things, and they want them to not be accessible to the public.”

While Iowa Republicans didn’t take up the law, Sen. Ernst proposed her own version at the national level. It expands over-the-counter birth control but doesn’t explicitly protect the right of people to obtain it. It doesn’t apply to as many types of birth control either.

In promoting her version, Ernst pushed the misinformation that emergency contraception (commonly known as morning-after pills or by the brand name Plan B) and intra-uterine devices cause abortions.

“Despite attacks from the same far left that promotes drugs that endanger women and encourages the death of the unborn, Republicans will always stand up for families and continue to protect life while supporting policies that equip women to raise children to live the American Dream,” she said on her Congressional website.

This same thing happened in 2022, when the US House of Representatives voted on the Right to Contraception Act. Before voting “no,” US Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-IA 2) introduced the exact bill Ernst did two years later.

Iowa Democrats said it’s obvious where Republicans’ priorities lie.

“If Republicans are serious about protecting birth control and it’s not just lip service, then this should be a slam dunk, 50-0 vote in the Iowa Senate and 100-0 vote in the Iowa House,” Wahls said. “But obviously they wouldn’t even give the right to Contraception Act, a subcommittee in the Iowa Senate. And we know that that’s because, frankly, their rhetoric is just that.”

The Iowa lawmakers who introduced the proposal in Iowa also made it clear how at-odds the votes are with what Iowans want.

“Republicans’ continued opposition to the Right to Contraception Act once again demonstrates how out of touch their party has become with most Iowans, who overwhelmingly agree: the right to choose if, when, and how to have children is a private matter and should be protected from political interference,” said state Sen. Liz Bennett (D-Dubuque).

  • Nikoel Hytrek

    Nikoel Hytrek is Iowa Starting Line’s longest-serving reporter. She covers LGBTQ issues, abortion rights and all topics of interest to Iowans. Her biggest goal is to help connect the dots between policy and people’s real lives. If you have story ideas or tips, send them over to [email protected].

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