Senate Democrats will force Republicans to vote on federal contraception protections

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WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., plans to hold a Senate vote next month on a bill to establish federal protections for legal contraceptives, a source familiar with his plan said.

The vote is designed to force Republicans to take a side in a culture war over reproductive rights that has divided their party as it plays out across the country ahead of the election.

“Now more than ever, contraception is a critical piece of protecting women’s reproductive freedoms, standing as nothing short of a vital lifeline for millions of American women across the country,” Schumer said Wednesday on the Senate floor.

Former President Donald Trump suggested in an interview that aired Tuesday that he was open to new restrictions on birth control. “We’re looking at that, and I’m going to have a policy on that very shortly," Trump said when he was asked by KDKA-TV of Pittsburgh whether he supports restrictions on contraception. "And I think it’s something you’ll find interesting. I think it’s a smart decision. We’ll be releasing it very soon.”

(Trump later walked those comments back on his social media platform.)

The bill, called the Right to Contraception Act, would protect a person’s ability to access contraceptives and protect a health care provider’s ability to provide contraceptives and information related to contraception. The vote will be part of a larger push to put Republicans on the record about reproductive rights ahead of the second anniversary of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

A date hasn’t been set for the vote, but Schumer began the process Tuesday to put the bill on the calendar, making it available to bring up later. The Senate will vote on a separate border security bill Thursday ahead of a weeklong recess pegged to Memorial Day, before it returns in June.

Both votes are designed to put GOP senators on record on tough issues over the summer of this key election year, as Democrats try to hold on to a slim Senate majority, 51 to 49, and as Trump has vacillated over reproductive rights.

The Senate will vote this week on the bipartisan border bill introduced in February, a vote that is expected to fail with bipartisan opposition and is largely seen as an effort to respond to Republican criticism of the situation at the southern border.

“Republicans are going to vote against the right of American families to decide how many children they want. Goodness gracious, if that’s going to be a contested issue in this campaign, I’ll stick with American families. I know where they stand,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Wednesday.

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said the vote shows Schumer is worried politically about the election.

“I suspect there will be some members to support it. But this is just another one, like this week we’ve got what I think is a gimmick on the border bill. He’s going to do these sort of political messaging bills because he knows he’s underwater in a couple of states,” Tillis said. “And he’s trying to create a political foothold for some of his incumbents.”

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the minority whip, who’s running to become the GOP leader next year, said the vote on a contraceptives bill “doesn’t seem necessary to me.”

“I think Republicans do support that, yeah. I’m not sure why you need to put a bill on the floor,” Thune said.

Asked about Trump’s saying he would look at potentially restrictive policies on contraceptives, Thune said: “It sounds like he clarified what he meant by that. But that’s obviously not a position that’s held by me or, I would argue, most Republicans.”

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., sidestepped when she was asked about Schumer’s plans.

“We’ll see what the Democrats are going to do,” she said. “Nobody knows what they’re going to bring up.”

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