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Sen. Patty Murray: Republicans Are Coming for Your Birth Control

The Washington senator told Jezebel it’s time for “every American to wake up and realize there’s a targeted attack” on our health care—including birth control.

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Donald Trump may have left office, but Senate Republicans are trying to carry on his policies as if the last presidential election had gone the other way.

This week, the Senate voted on and only narrowly rejected a resolution to restore a Trump-era ban on federal family planning funds going to clinics that offer abortion referrals. The move was a direct attack not just on abortion, but on funding for STI testing and treatment, cancer screenings, and yes, birth control.

While it was barely shot down in a 49-49 vote, Republicans have signaled what they’ll do if they manage to flip even one seat in the midterms (which they’re likely to do): Go hard after women’s health.

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“Republicans are just insanely focused on taking away someone’s ability to get essential health care right now—that’s what this attack on Title X is about,” Sen. Patty Murray told Jezebel in a phone interview. Today, with Republicans going so far as to criticize Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 Supreme Court case that legalized birth control for married people, Murray says it’s time for “every American to wake up and realize there’s a targeted attack” on their ability to make their own health care decisions—especially “including birth control.”

Across the country, STIs have been sharply on the rise since the onset of the pandemic, with cases of some infections up as high as 235% since 2016, per the CDC. The surge in state-level abortion bans also makes the possibility of defunding birth control and family planning services all the more devastating. All of this, of course, is a chilling reminder that Republicans aren’t stopping at abortion: They’re coming for basic family planning services, contraceptives, screenings, and really any resources that allow pregnant-capable and sexually active people to lead healthy lives.

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Democratic Party leaders have been sounding the alarm on the GOP’s politicians’ rapidly escalating war on reproductive health for the past decade. But with Roe v. Wade on the verge of being gutted by the Supreme Court, and Republicans poised to make serious gains in the midterms, it’s more than a little frustrating that the party hasn’t been able to do more with control of the White House and both chambers of Congress; some, including the president, are remaining coy about so much as saying the word “abortion.” Americans voted in 2020—many with reproductive rights in mind—to oust Trump and give the Senate back (barely) to Democrats. Yet, still we find ourselves in this position, with our most basic rights on the chopping block and Democrats unable to do anything to protect them, because “moderate” Democrats like Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin have cut off any avenues toward meaningful change by upholding the filibuster.

As one of the longest-serving champions of reproductive health access in the U.S. Senate, first elected amid 1992’s Year of the Woman, Murray is also baffled and frustrated that we’re still having this fight, about birth control and cancer screenings. For millions, birth control has never been about politics. “It’s just a given in their life,” Murray said. “It’s, ‘I go to the doctor, I get birth control, I get STI screenings, I get cancer screenings, I get what I need to be healthy.’ That [Republicans are] targeting this, still, today, is unbelievable.”

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Birth control is practically an everyday constant in women and young people’s lives, at this point. And whether we talk about it or not, so is abortion—so are STI tests, cancer screenings, the full range of reproductive health care services under attack by Republican lawmakers right now. Ninety-eight of sexually active women in the U.S. have used birth control. One in four women and pregnant-capable people have had abortions. And in 2019 alone, Title X grants conducted nearly 5 million STI and HIV tests, and 1.2 million cervical and breast cancer screenings. To Murray, these numbers signal just how fundamentally out-of-step Republicans are with the everyday realities of the American people. “Without knowing anything about your lives, they’re trying to decide whether you get access to birth control, if or when you have kids, your own economic situation, your most personal choices.”

It doesn’t matter that Trump was voted out of office. Members of his party are, if anything, more determined than ever to enact any policies they can to punish and dehumanize pregnant people, and those who use reproductive health services—on every level of government, and regardless of who’s in the White House.

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For eight months now, Texas has been living under SB8, a near-total abortion ban that deputizes citizens to surveil each other, and threatens abortion clinics with lawsuits costly enough to shut them down. More recently, the ban seems to have precipitated the arrest and jailing of a woman who was charged with homicide for allegedly self-inducing an abortion. Mutations of SB8 have now spread to handfuls of state legislatures, which were signed into law in Idaho, and are on the verge of passing out of Oklahoma’s legislature. This summer, the Supreme Court and its 6-3 anti-abortion majority will rule on a case involving a 15-week ban in Mississippi that could all but end Roe v. Wade. While attacks on abortion have unfolded on the state level, Senate Republicans this week attempted to defund birth control, and insurance companies across the country continue to find any reason they can to deny coverage of the full range of contraceptives.

And in both cases, abortion bans, like attacks on contraception, carry the most impact for low-income people of color, who are more likely to lack the resources to travel to get care or afford family planning resources without support from Title X. You can bet this reality isn’t lost on anti-abortion politicians, whose policies have a long history of policing the reproductive lives of people of color.

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At the end of the day, it’s not enough to just block the worst features of anti-abortion politicians’ war on bodily autonomy, like this latest resolution.

Murray says her caucus also has to be proactive about protecting and expanding reproductive freedoms. Senate Democrats are continuing the fight for the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA), a law that would codify Roe on the federal level, but continues to face an uphill battle with the filibuster intact. Despite the bill’s recent defeat earlier this year, blocked by Republicans and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, Murray says Congressional Democrats will never stop pushing for it.

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Today, the fight for reproductive freedom is an all-hands-on-deck situation. “What everyone should be saying is, wait a minute, this affects me, this affects my family. My sister’s, my friend’s, my own decisions—everybody should be aware this is not happening to somebody else,” Murray said. “It’s going to happen to you, unless we all stand up and fight back.”

Republicans’ latest resolution to once again end Title X ended in failure, but if anything, it should be taken as a warning shot: They’re coming for our birth control. They’re coming for everything. And even our fiercest advocates in Congress are still figuring out the path forward.