© 2024 Allbritton Journalism Institute
Birth Control Pills
On the state level, GOP lawmakers have killed legislation to protect and increase access to contraception. Rich Pedroncelli/AP

Senate Republicans Say They Support Birth Control. They’re Also Backing Restrictions.

A new memo from the National Republican Senatorial Committee directs GOP candidates to say they “support access to birth control.” But a bill Senate Republicans support could limit access, according to advocates.

Senate Republicans are pushing the message that they support access to birth control — even after they blocked a bill to create a national right to access contraceptives and backed a measure that reproductive rights advocates say would impose new restrictions.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer brought the Right to Contraception Act, introduced by Sen. Ed Markey, to the floor on Wednesday for a messaging vote to highlight Republicans’ record of opposing measures to expand access to reproductive health since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The bill failed in a 51-39 vote.

“Today, we asked every senator whether or not they support the right to contraception. Republicans resoundingly said no,” Markey said in a statement. “Republicans will mislead, and they’ll hide behind excuses. When given the opportunity to protect the right to contraception, they chose instead to pursue the MAGA anti-freedom, anti-choice agenda.”

Amid Democratic pressure, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is directing GOP candidates to say they “support access to birth control,” per a memo issued by NRSC Executive Director Jason Thielman. Polls show that Americans overwhelmingly support access to birth control — but it remains under threat due to abortion-related bills.

“There is not a single Republican Senator or Senate candidate advocating for new restrictions on contraception,” Thielman wrote.

Markey’s legislation is “a show bill,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, vice chair of the Senate GOP Conference. “Contraception is legal in every state; there’s nothing under threat here.”

On the state level, GOP lawmakers have killed legislation to protect and increase access to contraception, even as medical and legal experts warn that abortion bans and some proposed federal bills — like the Life at Conception Act — could impact birth control.

Democrats’ Right to Contraception Act was also meant to address Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurrence in the Dobbs ruling, where he argued that the court should reconsider precedents that protect birth control and same-sex marriage. (That opinion was enough of a threat to prompt Congress to successfully pass the Respect for Marriage Act in 2022, which enacted marriage equality into law.)

Sen. Debbie Stabenow told NOTUS that she doesn’t know why Republicans would support marriage equality legislation but not a bill on contraception when both matters were brought up by Thomas. “It’s pretty scary to me to see the lack of respect for women” from the GOP, she added.

Instead of supporting the Democrats’ bill, Senate Republicans are focusing on Sen. Joni Ernst’s Allowing Greater Access to Safe and Effective Contraception Act, which the senator’s office says is intended to “promote access” to contraception.

The bill directs the Department of Health and Human Services to prioritize drug applications for oral contraception, demands that the federal government report how funding is being used for contraception and makes it so that over-the-counter birth control be made available to people over 18.

That would be more restrictive than the status quo, however: Last year, the Food and Drug Administration approved over-the-counter contraception without age restrictions.

“It’s completely a defensive mechanism for them to try to change the conversation,” said Mini Timmaraju, president of Reproductive Freedom for All, formerly known as NARAL. “What it does do is impose an age restriction on any … OTC contraception of 18 years, so it actually limits access and takes FDA’s authority away from them.”

Ernst’s bill only focuses on birth control pills and does not address methods like IUDs. It also excludes emergency contraception like Plan B, which the senator told NOTUS are “abortion-inducing drugs” — a claim that is widely circulated by anti-abortion organizations. The FDA and major medical organizations have clarified that these contraceptive types are not abortifacients.

These measures put together, advocates say, ultimately impose restrictions by spreading misinformation and making it harder for younger people to obtain contraception.

Some Republicans said Democrats did not try to reach across the aisle and convince their GOP colleagues to support the bill.

“I think it’s because Democrats didn’t make an effort to seriously put this on the floor, which is unfortunate because I think it would be a good thing,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who voted in support of the Right to Contraception Act, told NOTUS. “I would have wished to get us to a place where we take away the question as to whether or not women will have free and fair access to contraception.”

Over in the House of Representatives, Democrats introduced a discharge petition to force a vote on the Right to Contraception Act and pressure Republicans in vulnerable districts into signing it.


Oriana González is a reporter at NOTUS.