Alaska’s US senators noncommittal on House contraception bill as Murkowski pursues different legislation on birth control access
By Riley Rogerson
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski would not say whether she supports a House bill passed Thursday that would codify the right to contraception, saying she is working on different legislation to safeguard the right.
An effort to preserve women’s access to birth control has emerged since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and Justice Clarence Thomas indicated in his opinion that the rulings protecting contraception and same-sex marriage could be next.
The House of Representatives on Thursday passed the Right to Contraception Act 228-195, with eight Republicans voting yes. Like Murkowski, Sen. Dan Sullivan also has not taken a position on the House’s contraception bill.
Alaska’s two Republican senators are also not saying where they stand on House legislation that would protect same-sex marriage. However, Murkowski said she is supportive of marriage equality, and Sullivan said he respects a previous Supreme Court decision upholding the right to same-sex marriage.
Murkowski said she supports the right to contraception. She said she is working with a bipartisan group of senators to introduce a different bill that would protect the right to contraception as outlined in Supreme Court ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut, and that bill has “similar goals” to the House bill in relation to birth control, a spokeswoman said.
“I think that is an expectation and a reliance that most women in this country would say, ‘We’ve fought those battles, and we have prevailed on those,’” Murkowski said of contraception in an interview this week.
Sullivan said he hasn’t seen the Right to Contraception Act, adding, “I will comment when I see it,” in an interview in the Capitol on Thursday.
Sullivan spokesperson Ben Dietderich wrote in a later statement, “the senator is waiting to see what the majority leader puts on the floor. As a general matter, he supports access to contraception.”
Dietderich also said that “right now, the Senator is actually focused on the record-high cost of food and energy harming all Alaskan families and fighting back against the Biden Administration’s relentless efforts to shut down our state and our economy.”
Murkowski is supportive of abortion rights. However, she recently came under fire from abortion rights activists for voting to confirm conservative Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett, two of the Trump appointees who voted to overturn Roe v. Wade. When a draft opinion was leaked in May, Murkowski told reporters the decision “rocks my confidence in the court right now.”
The House passed legislation to uphold abortion rights last week. Murkowski did not support the House bill. The senator introduced her own, more narrow, abortion legislation in February, but it has not advanced.
The House of Representatives also passed the Respect for Marriage Act with a 267-157 bipartisan vote Wednesday. All House Democrats and 47 House Republicans voted in favor of requiring states to recognize same-sex marriage and repealing a 1996 act that defined marriage as between a man and a woman.
National attention has turned to whether Senate Republicans will vote yes if the bill makes it to the Senate floor. Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, introduced companion legislation in the Senate on Tuesday.
In particular, eyes are on moderate Republicans like Murkowski who are supportive of marriage equality and have a history of supporting bipartisan measures.
Murkowski said Baldwin has spoken to her about the bill “because she knows that I have long been a supporter of marriage equality.”
“I’m prepared to take a look at what they put down in their legislation,” she said. “It’s relatively straightforward, which I think is good.”
When asked if she would support a bill if it is the same as the House bill, Murkowski responded, “I got some homework to do, but I think I’ve made very clear that I have supported marriage equality for years.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he wants to bring the bill to a vote.
“We’re working to get the necessary Senate Republican support to ensure it would pass,” he said in a floor speech. The bill needs 60 Senate votes to overcome a filibuster.
Sullivan has not indicated how he would vote.
“The senator is evaluating the legislation passed in the House and is waiting to see what the majority leader puts on the floor,” Dietderich said in a written statement. “As he has stated in the past, he respects the court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.”