Democrats tried to force a vote on contraception access, but Republicans shut it down

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Arizona Republicans unanimously blocked an effort by Democratic lawmakers to force a vote on legislation guaranteeing the right to access contraception in the Grand Canyon State.

In both the state House of Representatives and Senate on Wednesday, Democratic legislators tried to use a parliamentary maneuver to force an immediate vote on bills introduced earlier this year known as the Right to Contraception Act.

The measures in each chamber, which were introduced by Democrats, aim to protect the ability of Arizonans to obtain all forms of birth control, including Plan B emergency contraceptives, and guarantee the right of health care providers to prescribe contraceptives or give information about them to patients.

But Republicans control both chambers by one-seat majorities, and thus determine which bills advance. Neither the House nor the Senate versions were ever considered by a committee.

Last week, Gov. Katie Hobbs, a Democrat who has said ensuring access to contraceptives is a top priority of her administration, took aim at Republicans for failing to take up the Right to Contraception Act, questioning whether they truly supported what she said was a “basic freedom” for women.

Democrats hoped to force Republicans to take a stand on the bills by amending each chamber’s rules to immediately bring the measures to the floor for a vote, but GOP lawmakers voted en masse to stymie the attempt.

House Majority Leader Leo Biasiucci was the only Republican who spoke about the attempt in either chamber. 

“There are rules, there are processes and a way for bills to go through the House,” he said, adding that the Democrats hoped to upend the normal order of things.

But Rep. Stephanie Stahl-Hamilton, D-Tucson, said she is in her fourth year as a lawmaker and has introduced dozens of pieces of legislation, including the Right to Contraception Act this year — and not a single one of them has ever been considered by a committee, much less made it to the floor for a vote.

“This bill deserves to be put up on the board (for a vote) … because most people in the State of Arizona want that enshrined in our laws,” she said.

Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton, D-Tucson, is flanked by Democratic lawmakers as she speaks on March 13, 2024, in favor of a motion that would force a vote on a bill to guarantee the right to contraception in Arizona. The motion failed, as all Republicans opposed it. Screenshot via

Sen. Priya Sundareshan, a Tucson Democrat and sponsor of the Senate’s Right to Contraception Act, said she wondered whether the support some Republicans have voiced for contraception is real.

“Today is showing us that while Democrats are willing to try every avenue to protect your right to contraception, Republicans are willing to be a roadblock every single time,” she said, adding that protecting access to birth control “transcends party lines.”

Contraception is overwhelmingly popular among Americans, with up to 90% of people supporting its use, as is legislation aimed at guaranteeing access to it. 

The focus on contraception access from Democrats has been amplified by an Alabama court ruling last month that determined embryos were covered under wrongful death claims and effectively shut down IVF treatments. Alabama has a fetal personhood law that protects the rights of “unborn children” including their right to life. 

Arizona doesn’t have such a law, but Republicans have tried to implement one. When direct attempts to do so failed to gain traction at the Capitol, they tried indirect methods last year that ultimately failed to become law.

And although the U.S. Supreme Court has determined there is a constitutional right for women to access contraceptives, in a 1965 case called Griswold v. Connecticut, the permanence of that is in doubt. In a concurring opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, in which the Supreme Court stripped women of the right to access abortion services nearly 50 years after it affirmed that right, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the court should revisit Griswold.

If that were to happen, much like has been the case with abortion access, access to contraceptives would fall back on state laws, leaving American women with different levels of access — and different rights — depending on where they live.

“We’ve seen what happens if we rely on the Supreme Court of the United States to protect our right to reproductive health care,” Senate Minority Leader Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, said. “It’s dangerous out there, and surely we can agree that every Arizonan has the right to contraceptives if they make that decision as an adult.”

Republicans in Arizona haven’t pushed to outlaw or restrict access to contraceptives, but legislators in other states have done just that. In 2021, Missouri Republicans unsuccessfully attempted to bar the state’s Medicaid program from funding IUDs and Plan B, and in 2022, Idaho Republicans discussed an outright ban on both

And Republicans here have been dismissive of the need to do anything. Senate Majority Leader Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, said last week that it is “a controversy that doesn’t exist.” He then made a misogynistic remark to the Arizona Mirror when he was asked if he would oppose any future attempts to restrict access to contraceptives in Arizona.

“Like I said, Bayer Company invented aspirin. Put it between your knees,” he said, implying that the real issue is that women are too promiscuous.

Sen. Anna Hernandez, a Phoenix Democrat, took aim at Borrelli’s comment on Wednesday as she urged her colleagues to support holding an immediate vote on the legislation.

“Contrary to what some of us believe, aspirin is not the answer to health care. Contraception is,” she said.

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