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Contraceptive Access in 2024 Spotlight 05/23 06:00

   Republican lawmakers in states across the U.S. have been rejecting 
Democrats' efforts to protect or expand access to birth control, an issue 
Democrats are promoting as a major issue in this year's elections along with 
abortion and other reproductive rights concerns.

   CHICAGO (AP) -- Republican lawmakers in states across the U.S. have been 
rejecting Democrats' efforts to protect or expand access to birth control, an 
issue Democrats are promoting as a major issue in this year's elections along 
with abortion and other reproductive rights concerns.

   Former President Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee, pushed the issue 
into the political spotlight this week when he said in an interview that he was 
open to supporting restrictions on contraception before he reversed course and 
said he "has never and never will" advocate to restrict access to birth 
control. He went further in the post on his social media platform, saying "I do 
not support a ban on birth control, and neither will the Republican Party."

   But recent moves in governor's offices and state legislatures across the 
country tell a more complicated story about Republicans' stances on 
contraception amid what reproductive rights advocates warn is a slow chipping 
away of access.

   "Contraception is not as straightforward an issue for the GOP as Trump's 
statement suggests," said Mary Ruth Ziegler, a law professor at the University 
of California, Davis School of Law and a leading abortion politics scholar. 
"That's why a lot of right-to-contraception bills have been failing in both 
Congress and the states. Contraception is more contested than most people 
understand it to be."

   Trump's remarks this week and the increasing intensity of fights over 
contraceptives at the state level provide an opening for Democrats, who are 
seeking to capitalize on the issue as a potent driver of voter turnout in the 
fall -- just as abortion has been since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a 
constitutional right to the procedure two years ago.

   Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has said he wants a vote as 
soon as next month on a bill to protect access to contraception that is similar 
to one the U.S. House passed in 2022 when Democrats controlled the chamber. 
Even if that legislation fails to surmount the Senate's 60-vote filibuster 
hurdle, it will put Republicans on record on an issue that resonates personally 
with a wide swath of the electorate.

   Voters already have shown they broadly support abortion rights, even in 
conservative states such as Kansas, Kentucky and Ohio where they have sided 
with abortion rights advocates on ballot measures over the past two years. 
Legislative tangling over contraception access has been less visible, but that 
has begun to change as the abortion debate begins to branch off to other areas 
of reproductive rights.

   Earlier this month, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, vetoed bills 
from the Democratic-controlled Legislature that would have protected the right 
to contraception, saying he supports the right to it but that "we cannot 
trample on the religious freedoms of Virginians." He also said in his veto 
message that the measure would have interfered with the rights of parents.

   A Missouri women's health care bill was stalled for months over concerns 
about expanding insurance coverage for birth control after some lawmakers 
falsely conflated birth control with medication abortion. In March, Arizona 
Republicans unanimously blocked a Democratic effort to protect the right to 
contraception access, and Tennessee Republicans blocked a bill that would have 
clarified that the state's abortion ban would not affect contraceptive care or 
fertility treatments.

   Indiana adopted a law that requires hospitals to offer women who receive 
Medicaid coverage long-term reversible implantable contraceptives after giving 
birth -- but only after stripping IUDs from the bill. That move was made over 
objections from Democrats and some healthcare providers.

   Oklahoma's Republican-controlled legislature advanced legislation many 
reproductive rights advocates warned could ban emergency contraception and 
IUDs. And on Tuesday, the same day Trump made his statements to a Pittsburgh 
television station, Louisiana lawmakers advanced a measure that would make it a 
crime to possess two abortion-inducing drugs without a prescription, although 
pregnant women would be exempted.

   "If you look at the policies that have been moving in states since the fall 
of Roe, we are seeing Republicans dismantle reproductive rights, including 
contraceptives," said Heather Williams, president of the Democratic Legislative 
Campaign Committee.

   Dr. Gabriel Bosslet, an associate professor of clinical medicine at the 
Indiana University School of Medicine, raised concerns about some Republican 
arguments in favor of restricting access to contraceptives. He said, for 
example, that some anti-abortion groups have called on lawmakers to treat 
emergency contraception -- such as IUDs -- differently from barrier methods of 
contraception such as condoms by falsely labeling them as "abortifacients," 
claiming that they induce abortions.

   Emergency contraception also is referred to as an "abortifacient" in the 
GOP's Project 2025 playbook, which is a blueprint for ways to reshape the 
federal government in the event of a Republican presidential win this year.

   "This is part of a slow chipping away of contraception access," said 
Bosslet, who testified against the Indiana bill.

   In Wisconsin, Democrats introduced a bill that was intended to protect 
contraception access last year, but it never got so much as a hearing in either 
the GOP-controlled state Assembly or state Senate before the two-year session 
ended in March. Senate Democrats tried to pull the bill from committee in 
February and force a floor vote, but all the chamber's 22 Republicans voted 
against the move.

   Asked Wednesday why the bill never got traction, Senate Majority Leader 
Devin LeMahieu, a Republican, said his caucus would rarely let Democrats make 
such a move regardless of the topic, though he also said he wasn't familiar 
with the details of the measure. After a reporter read parts of the bill to 
him, LeMahieu said the legislation seemed redundant.

   "People can already get contraception," he said. "Not sure why we'd need to 
pass that bill."

   About half the states have had legislation this year to establish a legal 
right to contraception, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports 
reproductive rights. As of May 1, the group found, the only state where one of 
those measures passed either legislative chamber was Virginia -- though the 
bill was ultimately vetoed by the Republican governor.

   Parental involvement in teens' birth control access also has become a point 
of contention since an April ruling upheld a Texas law requiring teens to get 
parental consent. Reproductive rights advocates have warned the ruling could 
open the door for other states to restrict teens' ability to access 
contraception. Meanwhile, efforts to place emergency contraceptives or "morning 
after" pill vending machines on college campuses also have sparked outrage from 
anti-abortion groups.

   While Trump has sent mixed messages on reproductive rights, President Joe 
Biden has attacked his positions and highlighted their potential consequences. 
The Biden campaign this week warned that Trump, in light of the comments his 
campaign later walked back, would support other states taking similar action to 
restrict access to contraceptives.

   "If Donald Trump returns to office, this terrifying agenda could spread 
across the country," Ellie Schilling, a Tulane Law School professor, said on a 
conference call with reporters.

   On that same call, Biden supporters noted that when the Supreme Court 
overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, Justice Clarence Thomas issued a 
concurring opinion that troubled reproductive freedom advocates. He suggested 
that the court also reconsider previous opinions that prohibited bans on 
contraceptives, sodomy and same-sex marriage.

   Ziegler, the UC Davis law school professor, said the same legal reasoning 
behind the decision to overturn Roe could be used against contraception access. 
If anti-abortion groups make the false argument that certain contraception 
methods induce abortion, she said they might be able to use the Comstock Act to 
try to restrict the distribution of materials related to contraception. The 
19th-century law has been revived by anti-abortion groups seeking to block the 
abortion drug mifepristone from being sent through the mail.

   "We're seeing a borrowing of the anti-abortion playbook and seeing 
incremental attacks on contraception," she said.

 
 
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