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House passes legislation to enshrine a right to contraception in federal law

The bill now goes to the Senate, where its prospects are uncertain.
The House will vote Thursday to protect access to contraception nationwide after Clarence Thomas suggesting overturning it.
The House will vote Thursday to protect access to contraception nationwide after Clarence Thomas suggesting overturning it.NBC News / Getty Images, AP file

WASHINGTON — 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.

Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., said the United States is facing "a perilous time, where an extremist Supreme Court and the GOP are rolling back our rights."

Democratic leaders said they were spurred to act by Justice Clarence Thomas' concurring opinion in the ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, who wrote that the Supreme Court should also revisit decisions like 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut, which prohibited states from banning contraceptives and "correct the error" it made.

Rep. Ann Kuster, D-N.H., said that the "overturning of Roe v. Wade was a wake-up call" and that Congress could not leave other rights like that of contraception "up to chance," saying it is "none of the government's business."

Only eight Republicans voted with all 220 Democrats on the bill: Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, John Katko of New York, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Nancy Mace of South Carolina, Maria Salazar of Florida and Fred Upton of Michigan. Republican Reps. Bob Gibbs of Ohio and Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania voted “present.”

"Democrats are spreading fear and misinformation to score political points," said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

She called it "a Trojan horse for more abortions."

The bill now goes to the Senate, where a companion version has been introduced by Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. But it's unclear the measure will have the 60 votes required to break a likely Republican filibuster.

The legislation defines contraceptive as “any drug, device, or biological product intended for use in the prevention of pregnancy, whether specifically intended to prevent pregnancy or for other health needs, that is legally marketed under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, such as oral contraceptives, long-acting reversible contraceptives, emergency contraceptives, internal and external condoms, injectables, vaginal barrier methods, transdermal patches, and vaginal rings, or other contraceptives.”

The vote came two days after the House voted to codify a right to same-sex marriage, with the support of 47 Republicans.

Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., said Democrats were pursuing an “extreme abortion-on-demand agenda.”

Rep. Kat Cammack, R-Fla., said the bill violates “religious rights” and called it a bill by Democrats who invoke "states that they cannot name banning contraceptives."'

"Y'all are a real piece of work," she said on the House floor.