Bill to ensure access to contraception advances in Pennsylvania, aided by dozens of GOP House votes

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A proposal to ensure access to contraceptives cleared the Democratic majority Pennsylvania House on Tuesday, drawing dozens of Republican votes but facing an uncertain future in the GOP-controlled state Senate.

The bill was approved 133-69, with 14 women among the 32 Republicans voting yes. A spokeswoman for the Senate Republican caucus did not directly answer when asked if GOP senators or their leadership were generally supportive of the measure.

There was no debate in the House before the vote — only brief remarks by the sponsor, Rep. Leanne Krueger, a Delaware County Democrat.

The bill would have the state health secretary or physician general issue a statewide standing order for FDA-approved over-the-counter contraceptive drugs, including emergency contraception. It would mandate that health insurance and government programs cover all FDA-approved contraceptive drugs, devices and other products that have been prescribed, without copays.

It also would provide a religious and moral exception for employers, modeled on federal law, but that exception would not apply if the medication is needed for medical needs other than pregnancy prevention. There are also confidentiality provisions.

The vote occurred almost three weeks after Republicans in the U.S. Senate blocked federal legislation designed to protect women’s access to contraception.

The issue took on new significance nationally when former President Donald Trump told a Pittsburgh TV station in May that he was open to supporting regulations on contraception. Trump later said his comments had been misinterpreted and that he “has never and never will” advocate to restrict such access.

Planned Parenthood PA Advocates executive director Signe Espinoza called the proposal “an enormous shift toward control over our bodies.”

“We must have control over if and when we decide to start our families, but Pennsylvania has for too long allowed loopholes, exemptions and oversights to stand between us and our autonomy,” Espinoza said in a statement.

Rep. Krueger said in an interview Monday that she also was concerned about Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion in the U.S. Supreme Court decision on abortion access two years ago. Thomas wrote that the Supreme Court “should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents,” including cases that found married people have the right to obtain contraceptives, people can engage in private, consensual sex acts and the right to same-sex marriage.

A state law could help people obtain contraceptives if federal law changes, Krueger said.

“We have seen that access to reproductive health care, including contraception, is coming down to a state’s rights issue,” Krueger said.

In other states, contraception has been a politically contentious issue. A review earlier this month by the Guttmacher Institute, which advocates for abortion access, found several states have proposed or enacted laws to reduce access to contraception this year.

KFF, a nonprofit that studies health care issues, said in May that 14 states have legal or constitutional protections for the right to contraception, with six states and Washington, D.C., enacting them since the high court’s decision on abortion in June 2022.

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