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After passing a bill to protect same-sex and interracial marriages amid concerns that the U.S. Supreme Court overturning a federal right to abortion access could jeopardize other rights criticized by conservatives, the U.S. House is poised to vote to establish a right to contraception nationwide.
House Democrats say the legislation would defend decadeslong precedent and ensure access to contraceptives in the face of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
Iowa Republican U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson intends to vote against the bill.
Hinson instead introduced a separate bill with Iowa Republican U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks that would ensure women over 18 can access birth control pills over the counter.
The bill requires the Food and Drug Administration to give priority review to already approved, safe oral contraceptives for routine use so that they can be available over the counter for adult women.
Over-the-counter birth control pills are available worldwide but are available in the U.S. only with a prescription.
In contrast, emergency contraceptives, including Plan B, are already available over the counter.
Drugmaker HRA Pharma has asked the Food and Drug Administration to approve an over-the-counter birth control pill called Opill. The agency's review process is estimated to take about 10 months.
“Millions of American women safely use oral contraceptives and enabling women to access birth control pills at their local pharmacy is common-sense policy,” Hinson said in a statement.
“This is particularly important for women in rural areas who may have to drive over an hour to see their doctor. We should come together to support and empower women by expanding birth control access, improving maternal health care options, and ensuring women have the resources to choose life. I will continue working in a bipartisan manner to advocate for Iowa women and support families in Congress.”
The bill would also allow patients greater flexibility to use health savings and flexible spending accounts to pay for contraception and waives “stockpiling” limitations on the purchase of over-the-counter items when using such accounts for birth control.
As a state senator, Miller-Meeks introduced and passed a bill in the Iowa Senate allowing women over 18 to buy oral contraceptives over the counter in Iowa. The bill, which was backed by Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds and Planned Parenthood,, failed to win support in the Iowa House and died in the 2019 legislative session.
Studies from the Guttmacher Institute and other medical researchers have shown access to contraception reduces abortion rates.
“This important bill will ensure that the FDA acts quickly to approve oral contraceptives for over-the-counter use,” Miller-Meeks said in a statement. “As a woman and a doctor, I recognize the need for increased access to contraceptives and believe that this bill is an important step to promote women’s health.”
What the right to contraception bill would do
The right to contraception bill being considered in the House protects a range of contraceptive methods, devices and medications, including oral and emergency contraceptives, intrauterine devices, condoms, transdermal patches, sterilization procedures and more.
It also allows the Department of Justice, as well as providers and individuals harmed by restrictions on contraception access made unlawful under the legislation, to go to court to enforce access.
Republicans argue the legislation violates conscience protections for health care providers, and could send taxpayer dollars to abortion providers.
Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion in Dobbs — which overturned the constitutional right to an abortion — urged the court to reconsider its 1965 decision protecting access to contraception.
Several states already have restricted access to contraception by cutting off public funding for it, defining abortion broadly enough to include contraception, and allowing health care providers to refuse to provide services related to contraception based on their personal beliefs, according to House Democrats
Future of legislation in U.S. Senate unclear
It’s unclear whether Democrats’ Right to Contraception Act will would pass the evenly divided U.S. Senate, where they will need at least 10 GOP votes to defeat a filibuster.
Iowa Republican U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst told the Washington Post she feels “pretty strongly about making sure women have contraception.” Ernst introduced legislation in 2019 similar to Hinson’s bill that would expand access to over-the-counter contraception without a prescription and allow for people to pay for it with their health savings accounts.
Ernst, though, was noncommittal about voting for federal protections for contraception, saying it perhaps should be up to the states.
“I don’t think states will go that far,” she added.
Iowa Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley said he is not “aware of any meaningful effort to challenge access to contraception, which has been widely available for decades.”
“Most insurance plans cover it, as well. I support access to contraception and don’t think the government should further restrict it,” Grassley said in a statement.
Quad-City Times reporter Sarah Watson contributed to this story.
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