Republicans scheming to run on support for contraception after voting against it

Kellyanne Conway, former Senior Counselor to the President in the administration of Donald Trump, enters the spin room at the Fiserv Forum following the first Republican Presidential primary debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on August 23, 2023. (Photo by Christopher Dilts / Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

Politico reported on Dec. 13 that Congressional Republicans planned to talk with former Trump White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and other party strategists to discuss plans to use the issue of contraception rights as a way of mitigating backlash over abortion. But their voting records may make that difficult.

According to Politico, Conway, Independent Women’s Voice CEO Heather Higgins, and registered lobbyist Susan Hirschmann are working to convince Republicans in Congress to promote access to contraception as a 2024 campaign issue. 

Independent Women’s Voice is a tax-exempt group that promotes conservative policies. 

Hirschmann’s clients include Bayer Corporation and Pfizer, both pharmaceutical companies that sell oral contraceptive pills, as well as the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America trade association. 

Republicans have faced a significant backlash over their opposition to abortion rights since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in its 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision. Conway, Higgins and Hirschmann are citing polling that shows strong public support for contraception and birth control, even among Republican voters and those who oppose abortion, to suggest that talking affirmatively about those issues could help GOP candidates change the narrative.

“Republicans are like your uncle, who really loves you and loves the women in his family, but he’s bad about showing it,” Higgins told Politico. “It’s just not in their natural vocabulary. And we’re trying to help them learn how to make this be more part of their vocabulary and tell them that they need to talk about these things that their constituents all support, and be more visible and vocal.”

Conway told the outlet that conservative voters want Congress to act to ensure affordable contraception access. “I’ve been doing this for over three decades and I’m very surprised that over 8 in 10 independents and over 8 in 10 pro-lifers would agree with that. Because some people say: ‘You may have a right to contraception but why am I paying for it?’ That’s the classic libertarian argument.” She warned that Republican legislators “will lose precious political currency and votes” if they don’t act.

Sara Spain, a spokesperson for the Democratic organization EMILYs List, dismissed the strategy as insincere, telling Politico: “Actions speak louder than words and voters know which lawmakers stand with the majority of Americans and which don’t. So efforts like this attempted rebrand won’t do much, because we’ve all seen their record and we’ve seen they are willing to ban abortion and contraception.”
As recently as the last Congress, Democrats proposed a bill that would have guaranteed “an individual’s right to access and a health care provider’s right to provide contraception and related information.” The bill passed in the House of Representatives 228-195-2 on July 21, 2022, but did not get a vote in the Senate. Just eight House Republicans voted in favor, and two members voted present.

Wisconsin Republican Reps. Scott Fitzgerald, Mike Gallagher, Glenn Grothman, Bryan Steil, and Tom Tiffany all voted against the Right to Contraception Act. 

In October, every Republican member of the state’s delegation backed making Louisiana Republican Rep. Mike Johnson the new speaker of the House. 

In June 2022, Johnson praised the Dobbs decision and specifically endorsed comments made by Justice Clarence Thomas in a concurring opinion calling for the high court to reconsider its 1964 decision in Griswold v. Connecticut affirming a right to contraception and privacy. 

Johnson told the conservative talk radio host Todd Starnes: “What Justice Thomas is calling for is not radical. In fact, it’s the opposite of that.”

Earlier this year, Republicans touted Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s strategy of calling a 15-week abortion ban with some exceptions a reasonable compromise. Voters in the state responded by giving Democratic supporters of abortion rights the majority in both the House of Delegates and the Senate.