Speaker Pelosi at a Right to Contraception Act press conference
Speaker Pelosi at a Right to Contraception Act press conference (Speaker's office)

The U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, on a 228–195 vote, passed leg­is­la­tion Thurs­day that would cre­ate a statu­to­ry right to preg­nan­cy pre­ven­tion, affirm the right of doc­tors and health care work­ers to pro­vide con­tra­cep­tives, and secure fed­er­al author­i­ty to sue states that seek to block the means of fam­i­ly planning.

The Right to Con­tra­cep­tion Act drew unan­i­mous sup­port from House Democ­rats. Oppo­si­tion came from 195 House Repub­li­cans, led by Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Cathy McMor­ris Rodgers, R‑Washington (5th Dis­trict). Eight Repub­li­can law­mak­ers backed the mea­sure while two Repub­li­cans vot­ed “Present.”

The con­tra­cep­tion mea­sure was one of four bills inspired by the U.S. Supreme Court rul­ing that over­turned Roe v. Wade and took away Amer­i­cans’ right to access repro­duc­tive health­care through­out the coun­try. Specif­i­cal­ly, the bills were inspired by a con­cur­ring opin­ion by Jus­tice Clarence Thomas in which Thomas urged the court to “recon­sid­er” pre­vi­ous rul­ings that legal­ized con­tra­cep­tion, same-sex mar­riage, and con­sen­su­al sex acts between adults.

The Supreme Court ini­tial­ly legal­ized con­tra­cep­tion for mar­ried cou­ples in its 1965 Gris­wold vs. Con­necti­cut deci­sion, in which U.S. Supreme Court Jus­tice William O. Dou­glas defined a right of pri­va­cy, and lat­er removed bar­ri­ers for the unmarried.

“It is out­ra­geous that near­ly six­ty years after Gris­wold was decid­ed, women must once again fight for fun­da­men­tal free­dom to deter­mine the size and tim­ing of their fam­i­lies,” House Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi told colleagues.

“But as Repub­li­cans turn back the clock on con­tra­cep­tion, Democ­rats today are mak­ing it clear. We are not going back.”

The House Speak­er took a shot at Thomas: “The asso­ciate jus­tice of the court has been clear. We’ve only just begun to over­turn women’s rights and indi­vid­ual free­dom and pri­va­cy when it comes to inter­ac­tion among us all.”

McMor­ris Rodgers, as rank­ing Repub­li­can on the House Ener­gy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee, man­aged floor debate for the opposition.

She deliv­ered a dog’s break­fast of alle­ga­tions, accus­ing Democ­rats of “fear mon­ger­ing” and “scare tac­tics,” say­ing the leg­is­la­tion fur­thers “Joe Biden’s war on reli­gious lib­er­ty and con­science protection.”

“Women deserve the truth, not more fear and mis­in­for­ma­tion that forces an extreme agen­da on the Amer­i­can peo­ple,” McMor­ris Rodgers argued.

She sim­i­lar­ly led oppo­si­tion on Tues­day to a mea­sure cod­i­fy­ing the right of same-sex cou­ples to mar­ry. Forty-sev­en Repub­li­cans, includ­ing Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Dan New­house, broke ranks to vote yea. So did two oth­er North­west Repub­li­cans: Mike Simp­son, R‑Idaho and Clif Bentz, R‑Oregon.

McMor­ris Rodgers, New­house and Jaime Her­rera Beut­ler, R‑Washington (3rd Dis­trict) all vot­ed nay on the con­tra­cep­tion measure.

Among the few Repub­li­cans vot­ing yea were Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Liz Cheney, R‑Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger, R‑Illinois, the two Repub­li­can law­mak­ers who defied Repub­li­can House lead­er­ship to serve on the Jan­u­ary 6th committee.

The House bills are bound for the Sen­ate, where at least ten Repub­li­can votes are need­ed to cut off debate and move to a vote.

The mar­riage equal­i­ty leg­is­la­tion stands a chance of pas­sage, although Sen­ate Minor­i­ty Leader Mitch McConnell has not yet said how he will vote.

One Wash­ing­ton Demo­c­rat, Dr. Kim Schri­er, spoke dur­ing the con­tra­cep­tion debate. “This bill affirms cur­rent law that women can deter­mine the path of their lives,” said Schri­er, a pedi­a­tri­cian who has pre­scribed con­tra­cep­tives for years.

“Every­one should choose means of con­tra­cep­tion that meets their needs with­out inter­fer­ence from politi­cians,” Schri­er added.

Con­tra­cep­tion used to be a bipar­ti­san cause. Future Pres­i­dent George H.W. Bush, as a Texas con­gress­man in the 1960s, was such an enthu­si­as­tic backer of fam­i­ly plan­ning that his col­leagues nick­named him “Rub­bers.”

In Gris­wold, Jus­tice Dou­glas wrote a pow­er­ful opin­ion that the state should stay out of America’s bed­rooms, remark­ing: “Would we allow the police to search the sacred precincts of the mar­i­tal bed­rooms for signs of the use of con­tra­cep­tives? The very idea is repul­sive to the notion of pri­va­cy sur­round­ing the mar­riage relationship.”

Appar­ent­ly not to Clarence Thomas and his Fed­er­al­ist Soci­ety law clerks.

On the House flood Thurs­day, Repub­li­can speak­ers mocked what they called “The Right to Decep­tion Act” and “The Pay­out for Planned Par­ent­hood Act.”

The Repub­li­cans said they would sup­port more lim­it­ed leg­is­la­tion, but noth­ing that would legal­ize “morn­ing after” preg­nan­cy ter­mi­nat­ing pills.

If Repub­li­cans retake con­trol of the House, McMor­ris Rodgers is in line to chair the pow­er­ful House Ener­gy and Com­merce Committee.

The East­ern Wash­ing­ton House mem­ber is an out­spo­ken abor­tion oppo­nent and sup­port­er of the Supreme Court rul­ing. She is also spon­sor­ing leg­is­la­tion that would throw open fed­er­al lands to oil and gas drilling.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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