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Texas Republicans in Congress vote against bill to protect right to contraception

U.S. House Democrats passed a bill Thursday to ensure access to contraceptives.
Michael Gonzalez
The Texas Tribune
U.S. House Democrats passed a bill Thursday to ensure access to contraceptives.

The House passed the measure, but it will have a harder time getting through the evenly divided Senate.

The U.S. House passed a bill Thursday that would prevent states from banning birth control, though nearly the entire Republican delegation from Texas voted against it.

The bill, which faces far more hurdles passing through the Senate, largely responds to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ recent opinion casting doubt on past rulings guaranteeing legal protections for contraceptives. It is part of a Democratic rush to codify policy on social issues that have since been put under question after the high court overturned Roe v. Wade.

All Texas Republicans voted against the measure, except for Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, who did not vote. Only eight Republicans in the entire chamber joined all Democrats in voting in favor of the contraceptives legislation.

Democrats, meanwhile, said the measure is necessary to protect women’s personal freedom.

“The decision of when and how to begin a family is a personal decision, and I will continue to fight back against any attempts to further strip away reproductive rights from Texas women,” said U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas.

The right to contraception was established in Griswold v. Connecticut, a 1965 case in which the court found that a constitutional right to privacy protected women’s ability to take birth control. The right to privacy was also the basis for Roe v. Wade in 1973.

Thomas and some other conservatives dispute whether such a right is actually established in the Constitution, causing some to fear that other court precedents could be at risk. But while Roe has been overturned, Griswold remains. Contraception is legal in Texas, and the state’s top leaders have not given any public indication that they want to change that.

While the bills filed in response to the court’s decision have faced little difficulty passing through the Democratic-controlled House, they have faced steeper challenges getting over the filibuster in the evenly split Senate.

Thomas’ concurring opinion accompanied the court’s ruling on abortion last month. His opinion also suggested the court reconsider rulings establishing the right to gay marriage.

House Democrats also passed legislation this week codifying the right to gay and interracial marriage, as well as legislation last week ensuring access to abortions nationwide. The contraceptives bill proved a far more partisan vote than the marriage bill, which attracted dozens of Republican members joining Democrats to vote in favor, including one Texan, U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-San Antonio.

Republicans disparaged the contraceptives bill as violating religious freedom and states’ rights to regulate their own health care policy.

Senate Democrats introduced companion legislation earlier this week, which U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, dismissed as “pure hysteria,” doubting the Supreme Court would actually repeal legal protections for contraceptives.

“It’s not in jeopardy,” Cornyn told The Associated Press.