Democrats Push to Enshrine Contraception, Same-Sex Marriage, Into Federal Law

Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the spate of new bills is necessary to resist a ‘dark desire to punish and control America’s most intimate and personal decisions.’

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks alongside Democratic women members of Congress about the House vote of HR 8373, the “Right to Contraception Act,” at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, on Wednesday.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks alongside Democratic women members of Congress about the House vote of HR 8373, the “Right to Contraception Act,” at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, on Wednesday. (photo: Saul Loeb / AFP via Getty Images)

House Democrats passed two pieces of legislation this week: A bill requiring all states to codify same-sex “marriage” into federal law, and a bill establishing that a person has a “statutory right” to “obtain contraceptives,” prohibiting any state law that “impedes access to contraceptives, contraception, or contraception-related information.” 

But these measures to enshrine two leading progressive agendas into federal law — prompted by what some say are unfounded legal concerns in the wake of Roe being overturned — face a divided Senate where they would need 10 Republicans to cross the aisle and vote with Democrats for a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority.

Although Justice Samuel Alito specifically wrote in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision overturning Roe v. Wade that “this decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right,” Democrats have focused on Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurrence, where he agreed with that statement, but called on the court to reconsider all substantive due-process precedents including the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalizing same-sex “marriage” and the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut decision legalizing contraception. Thomas wrote that “in future cases, we should ‘follow the text of the Constitution, which sets forth certain substantive rights that cannot be taken away, and adds, beyond that, a right to due process when life, liberty, or property is to be taken away.’ Substantive due process conflicts with that textual command and has harmed our country in many ways. Accordingly, we should eliminate it from our jurisprudence at the earliest opportunity."

While many see it as highly unlikely that same-sex civil “marriage” or contraception would be revisited by the court, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., a self-described “devout” Catholic, pushed the measures to codify them legislatively despite the Church’s clear teaching against both matters. She argued that a “right” to contraception was a “matter of economic justice” and “women’s health,” and applauded the Respect for Marriage Act’s effort to “enshrine into law a fundamental freedom: the right to marry whomever you choose.” She also embraced messaging, just ahead of the upcoming midterm elections, that accuses Republicans of a “dark desire to punish and control America’s most intimate and personal decisions.”

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, chairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Pro-Life and Marriage and Family Committees, wrote to House lawmakers last week objecting to these “unnecessary votes to create statutory rights to contraception and same-sex civil marriage,” in light of the reality that “the Supreme Court’s majority was explicit in its Dobbsholding that the decision had no bearing on access to contraception, or on same-sex marriage.”


Contraceptive Bill Concerns

The U.S. bishops urged opposition to these measures, writing that in addition to Church teaching that contraception “diminishes respect for the dignity of the human person,” the “Right to Contraception Act” would render invalid “informed consent laws, waiting periods, and other federal and state laws and regulations applicable to patients, including minors, with respect to sterilization and contraceptives” including abortion-causing contraceptives, and would render “the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) inapplicable as to those items and would invalidate conscience protections on the basis that they impede access to these products and procedures.”

Republican lawmakers and pro-life groups have also voiced concerns about the contraception bill, which passed in the House Thursday by a vote of 228-195, largely along party lines. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., said on the House floor Thursday that the measure “should be called the ‘Payouts for Planned Parenthood Act’” as it would essentially prohibit states from barring Medicaid funding to the country’s largest abortion provider. She added that the bill would “force organizations like the Little Sisters of the Poor to violate their religion and provide contraception” and asked, “For all the fearmongering Democrats are spreading about other Supreme Court precedents being threatened where is the respect for the Little Sisters of the Poor and their victory for their constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom?”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, wrote to lawmakers that in addition to the bill’s guarantee of “funding to abortion providers by barring federal and state governments from redirecting contraception funding to life-affirming health care providers,” it was damaging because “the definition of contraceptives in this bill is overbroad — it could mandate access to abortion drugs.” 

The contraception bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where it would need 60 votes to pass. While a few Republican senators indicatedthat they are reviewing the measure, others came out forcefully against it, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who said “there is zero threat of contraception being taken away — it’s a made-up political issue.” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who often votes with Democrats on these issues, is reportedly working on a separate measure to ensure a federal right to contraception.


Codifying Same-Sex ‘Marriage’

In contrast, the “Respect for Marriage Act,” may receive more support from Senate Republicans although it is unclear if it can pass the Senate. The bill passed the House on Tuesday in a 267-157 vote, with 47 Republicans joining Democrats in voting for the measure. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has indicated that he will bring the bill to the Senate floor, saying he was “impressed” by how much support it received in the House. Thus far, five Republican senators have indicated that they would back the legislation, according to CNN. 

Regarding that measure, the bishops quoted Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, who wrote after Obergefell that “the law has a duty to support every child’s basic right to be raised, where possible, by his or her married mother and father in a stable home.” The bishops wrote that “same-sex civil marriage has further diminished that fulfillment of that right, both directly and indirectly as — like contraception — it disassociates marriage and sexual actions from the responsibilities of childbearing. This, in turn, reinforces existing negative dynamics in our society that have already done so much damage, such as with respect to fatherlessness.” 

“The ‘Respect for Marriage Act’ would do the opposite of what its name implies,” they continued, “codifying a demand for states and the federal government to honor whatever may be deemed ‘marriage’ by any other state. In the case of the latter, in section 4 of the bill, there is a question whether it would even be limited to two persons.”

They added that “since marriage redefinition, governments continue to threaten the conscience and religious freedom of individuals such as wedding vendors, and entities such as foster care providers, who seek to serve their communities without being punished for their long-standing and well-founded beliefs.”

Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone kneels before the monstrance at a June 17, 2021, Holy Hour.

Archbishop Cordileone and the Pelosi Letter (May 28)

On May 20, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone made the bold pastoral move to notify House Speaker Nancy Pelosi she would not be permitted to receive the Holy Eucharist in the San Francisco archdiocese until she publicly recants her support for abortion. How will this action reverberate beyond Pelosi? Register Senior Editor Jonathan Liedl brings us the story. Then, in light of the Solemnity of the Ascension, we turn to another question: Were the disciples sad when Christ ascended into Heaven? On this topic, Register blogger John Clark has some insights to share.