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RICH LOWRY: The war on contraception that wasn’t

We don’t know who they are or where they are. All we know is that some place or another, a shadowy group of powerful Republicans is meeting to figure out how to ban contraceptives. For all we know, they also might be scheming to cover up what really happened at Area 51 and to obscure the identity of the real assassin of JFK.

The Democratic charge that Republicans are working to cut off access to contraception is so ludicrously unfounded that it amounts to an outlandish conspiracy theory. Yet this allegation undergirds the Democratic effort to pass a sweeping new Right to Contraception Act through Congress.

Sure, contraception is already legal in every state and no one is trying to ban it, but you can’t be too careful. The contraception act is supposedly a — ahem — prophylactic measure. The political play clearly is to offer legislation with numerous provisions that Republicans can’t support and then, when they vote against it — as all but two Republicans did in the Senate — to say: “See? We told you so.”

The Democratic maneuver generated the desired headlines all over the media about Republicans opposing a bill to protect contraception. A key piece of the Democratic fearmongering is that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said in his concurring opinion in Dobbs that Griswold v. Connecticut, which established the constitutional right to contraception, should be overturned. This doesn’t mean that Thomas himself is hostile to contraception or supports bans of it — only that he thinks Griswold is constitutionally defective.

It’s an enormous leap to go from this stray remark to any serious threat to contraception. Let’s assume against all expectations that the Griswold decision is rendered a smoking ruins by Thomas and his colleagues sometime soon. Where in these United States would a serious Republican official propose to restore Connecticut’s Comstock law that was at issue in that 1965 case and prohibit anyone from using contraception?

Even if Republicans are quietly harboring an intention to do this, they’d be decisively rebuked by voters if they ever tried to act on it, and that would be the end of the war on contraception. Again, though, all that is theoretical, not to say utterly fantastical. In reality, even the Trump administration spent roughly $1.8 billion on domestic family-planning in fiscal year 2020.

The source of the GOP opposition to the Democratic contraception legislation is sincere and doesn’t reflect any secret agenda. Republicans consider the bill, correctly, a Trojan horse (no pun intended, really) for radical measures that couldn’t pass on their own. The legislation would wipe away conscience protections, make it impossible to cut off contraception funding to organizations that provide abortions, and define contraception so broadly that it could cover abortifacients.

With Senate Democrats desperate to make the most of their post-Dobbs political advantage on abortion and related issues, there’s no room for good-faith objections. No, it’s all demagogy, all the time. “Thanks to Donald Trump and the right-wing MAGA Supreme Court, Americans now have to question whether or not they’ll have access to something as basic and widely supported as birth control,” Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

Of course, they don’t have to question any such thing, but Democrats want them to question it, based on innuendo and shoddy, politically motivated reasoning.

Rich Lowry is on X @RichLowry.

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