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Eyeing Dobbs anniversary, Senate plans IVF, contraception votes

Democratic senators initially had largely shied away from seeking votes on reproductive health issues after 2022 Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade

Abortion rights activists protest as oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization are held on Dec. 1, 2021.
Abortion rights activists protest as oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization are held on Dec. 1, 2021. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate will vote on at least two reproductive health bills ahead of the second anniversary of the overturn of Roe v. Wade, highlighting what they expect to be a top campaign issue ahead of November.

The announcement marks a shift for Senate Democrats, who in contrast to their House counterparts, initially largely shied away from seeking votes on reproductive health issues following the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling in June 2022. 

The Senate voted twice on legislation to codify abortion rights in 2022 prior to the decision, while the then-Democratic House took up a number of bills related to abortion and contraception after that ruling. Under Republicans, the House has focused its messaging votes toward resources for pregnancy centers.

Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said that Wednesday’s vote to protect access to use and provide contraception will be the first in a series of actions. 

Speaking on the Senate floor Tuesday, he said he has also begun the process of moving forward on, a package that would establish protections for receiving and providing in vitro fertilization services and expand insurance coverage of these fertility treatments, according to a summary.

“I intend to bring this legislation protecting access to IVF up for a vote very soon,” said Schumer. “In the coming weeks, Senate Democrats will put reproductive freedoms front and center before this chamber.”

Such a strategy stands in stark contrast to earlier this year, when top Democrats, acknowledging the narrow majority and potential legislative obstacles, said they intended to focus on unanimous consent requests instead of floor consideration for such bills.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., speaking in a March news conference ahead of the State of the Union address, defended a unanimous consent request to consider, an IVF bill included in the larger IVF package that Schumer intends to bring up for a vote.

“Every single one of us here knows that we have a tremendous challenge on the floor today to just get our actual business that we have to get done, done,” said Murray, referring to appropriations bills and other must-pass items. Republicans “made it very clear that if we were to bring this bill up, it would take weeks on the floor, they would use every procedure.”

Discharge petition

The House is taking a different approach.

House Democratic Whip Katherine M. Clark of Massachusetts and Rep. Kathy Manning of North Carolina introduced a discharge petition Tuesday afternoon to force a vote on the counterpart to the Senate contraception bill.

“This should be a decision for any reasonable Republican, but they are being held hostage by the most extreme members of their conference,” said Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., during a news conference announcing the petition.

Discharge petitions are a rarely used mechanism to bypass committee consideration and force a floor vote on a bill if a majority of members sign on. The bill faces an uphill path to gaining the required signatures to force a vote, but discharge petitions have been used as a messaging tool on issues prioritized by the minority. The measure introduced will remain in flux until and if it gets enough signatures to force a vote.

In 2019 and 2021, then-Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., filed discharge petitions as part of a push to get a vote on a bill that Republicans said would provide protections for an infant that survives an attempted abortion. 

Hearing debate

Democrats’ focus on abortion rights as a political winner was apparent during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing also held Tuesday.

“It’s what the American people believe in poll after poll in state election after state election,” said Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. “We may disagree on this or that issue, but very strongly the American people believe it is women, not the government that has a right to control their own body.”

Murray similarly called for a Democratic government trifecta to protect abortion rights.

But HELP ranking member Bill Cassidy, R-La., called the hearing’s premise “partisan politics.”

“It’s an election year in which a Democratic incumbent president is running behind, so a decision has been made to raise abortion to a high profile, to change the setting, to invite a lot of folks to put us on TV,” said Cassidy.

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