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Democrats and GOP maneuver on contraception issue in U.S. Senate

Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois addresses reporters in a news conference ahead of a senate vote on a contraceptive rights measure.
U.S Sen. Edward Markey
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Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois addresses reporters in a news conference Wednesday ahead of a Senate vote on a contraceptive rights measure.

The presence of reproductive rights in the fall political campaign took center stage in the Senate on Wednesday, with a Democrat-backed vote to declare contraception a federal right.

Republicans have said the availability of contraception is not at stake. During a Capitol Hill news conference, U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois pointed to Oklahoma legislation that could outlaw IUDs and the Virginia governor's veto of a bill protecting contraception as proof otherwise.

"Well, they also said we were overreacting when we said Republicans were coming for Roe. They said we were overreacting when we said IVF and the right to build our families on our own terms would be next after the Dobbs decision. But this is not an overreaction. This has been Republicans' plan all along," said Duckworth.

Duckworth said legal availability of the morning-after pill also is under threat in several states. Democrats, including Illinois U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, said GOP efforts are making it harder for people in marginalized communities to get health care.

"MAGA Republicans insist they are for freedom. What about the freedom to decide the future of your family and whether or not you are going to have a planned pregnancy? That is so fundamental and so basic," said Durbin.

Sponsors of the measure, including Duckworth, noted Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has invited a challenge to a key precedent that affects the issue, the so-called Griswold case.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee sent a memo to GOP Senate candidates this week urging them to support an alternate bill sponsored by Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa that would purportedly expand access to contraception.

Republicans called the Democratic measure a shameless political ploy. Senate President Chuck Schumer disagreed.

"This is not a 'show' vote. This is a 'show us who you are' vote," said Schumer.

The proposal also would establish a right for doctors to discuss and provide contraception without fear of discipline or jail. Republicans said the proposal is overly broad and doesn't take safeguard religious objections to contraception by health providers.

Ernst has introduced the measure Republicans say would broaden the availability of contraception in lieu of the Democratic proposal.

Most Americans say they want to have contraception available. The measure was expected to founder from the lack of 60 Senate votes to advance.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.