US Republicans block bill protecting access to contraception

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer bemoaned the 'erosion of reproductive rights' (CHIP SOMODEVILLA)
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer bemoaned the 'erosion of reproductive rights' (CHIP SOMODEVILLA)

Republicans in the US Senate on Wednesday blocked a bill recognizing a legal right to contraception, introduced as part of a Democratic effort to highlight threats to reproductive freedoms as a key issue in November elections.

The legislation would have guaranteed the right to obtain and use condoms, intrauterine devices and other birth control methods, and for health providers to prescribe them and give advice free from government interference.

A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that one in five US adults worries that access to contraception is "a threatened right likely to be overturned" following curbs on abortion implemented in most conservative states.

The bill needed the support of 60 senators in a preliminary vote to get debate started but could only muster backing from 51 as just two Republicans crossed the aisle.

President Joe Biden released a statement calling the Republican blockade "unacceptable" and vowing to fight for improved access to "affordable, high-quality contraception."

"Republican elected officials' extreme agenda -- which is at odds with the majority of Americans -- continues to undermine access to reproductive health care, from abortion to contraception to in vitro fertilization (IVF)," he said.

- 'Shameful consequences' -

Reproductive rights have been an effective political cudgel for Democrats in the two years since the conservative-leaning Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that made abortion a constitutionally protected right.

The bench had been bolstered by three judges appointed by Republican former president and current candidate Donald Trump, who recently suggested he was open to restricting access to contraception, before walking back the remarks.

"Americans' uncertainty about using birth control is one of the many shameful consequences of overturning Roe v. Wade," said Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

"This is the mess Donald Trump and the MAGA Supreme Court... have created."

The Democrats face an uphill struggle to hang on to their majority in the upper chamber of Congress.

Schumer has been introducing "messaging bills" -- legislation that has little chance of becoming law but plants a flag on the party's policy positions -- to boost members with tight reelection races.

In May, he introduced a tough border security bill that had no chance of getting Republican votes -- giving Democrats in conservative states the opportunity to argue that they are tougher on immigration than their opponents.

And he has more floor action on reproductive rights penciled in, with a vote expected on legislation protecting IVF later in June -- although Republicans dismiss the drive as a political stunt.

"Contraception is available in every state in America, and there's no legitimate effort to change that," said Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama.

"Democrats are using their powers as the majority party to engage in fearmongering to further their own political agenda."