She had barely opened her city corridor to questions when Consultant Mariannette Miller-Meeks, a Republican from a aggressive district in Iowa, was pressed to defend her opposition to abortion rights.
“One of the main functions of the federal government is to protect life,” Ms. Miller-Meeks, who received election in 2020 by simply six votes, advised a sparse crowd this month in Iowa Metropolis, a youthful, extra progressive a part of her district the place she not often campaigns.
Ms. Miller-Meeks then shortly pivoted to politically safer terrain, telling her constituents about how she had additionally sponsored laws aimed toward increasing entry to contraception.
“The best way to prevent abortion is to prevent pregnancy,” she mentioned.
It’s an more and more frequent technique amongst susceptible Home Republicans — particularly these in politically aggressive districts — who’re attempting to reconcile their get together’s hard-line anti-abortion insurance policies with the views of voters of their districts, significantly independents and girls.
Whereas many of those G.O.P. lawmakers have solid votes within the Home this 12 months to restrict abortion entry — sustaining a stance that some Republicans concede damage their get together in final 12 months’s midterm elections — Ms. Miller-Meeks and others spent a part of the summer season congressional recess speaking up their assist for contraception entry, which is broadly standard throughout the nation and throughout get together strains.
Showing to embrace entry to contraception has develop into an crucial for Republican candidates in any respect ranges who’re involved that their get together’s opposition to abortion rights has alienated ladies, significantly after the Supreme Courtroom’s resolution final 12 months to overturn Roe v. Wade and the acute abortion bans in G.O.P.-led states which have adopted.
“Can’t we all agree contraception should be available,” Nikki Haley, the one Republican girl within the presidential main, mentioned final week on the first main debate, searching for to blunt assaults from Democrats on the difficulty of reproductive well being care.
In states the place abortion is now prohibited, 43 p.c of voters say abortion entry needs to be simpler, up from 31 p.c in 2019, in accordance with a current Pew Analysis survey.
Championing entry to contraception in these states is “smart politics and good policy,” mentioned Nicole McCleskey, a Republican pollster. “Republicans have long said we need to find alternatives to abortion. This is one. There are a lot of Republicans who have longstanding records of promoting contraception. It’s a meaningful effort to engage women voters.”
Simply forward of lawmakers’ lengthy summer season break, Ms. Miller-Meeks was a part of a bunch of Home Republican ladies who launched the Orally Taken Contraception Act of 2023, a invoice that they pitched as a approach to broaden entry to contraception and that she known as “a significant step forward for health care.”
Abortion rights advocates argue that the laws is basically meaningless and merely an effort by Republican lawmakers to mislead voters about their positions on ladies’s well being. However for the G.O.P. ladies who’re backing it, the invoice provides a sublime approach to shift the dialog away from the divisive difficulty of abortion.
Becoming a member of Ms. Miller-Meeks on the laws was Consultant Jen Kiggans, Republican of Virginia, a prime goal of Democrats in subsequent 12 months’s elections. Ms. Kiggans, a nurse practitioner, voted along with her get together in July to connect language to the annual protection coverage invoice that might reverse a Pentagon coverage aimed toward preserving entry to abortion companies for navy personnel no matter the place they’re stationed, and has spent the weeks since emphasizing her advocacy for increasing entry to contraception.
Along with co-sponsoring the contraception entry invoice, Ms. Kiggans supported an modification to the protection measure by Consultant Veronica Escobar, Democrat of Texas, to remove co-pays for contraception for navy members and their households.
The contraception invoice launched in July, co-sponsored by no less than eight Republican ladies and endorsed by the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony Professional-Life America, would direct the Meals and Drug Administration to difficulty steerage for firms that need to make oral contraception out there with out prescriptions. However it isn’t clear what sensible impact it might have.
Solely two drug firms are actively working to supply contraception over-the-counter. Considered one of them, Opill, was already authorized on the market and not using a prescription earlier than the laws was launched. The opposite, Cadence Well being, is years into the appliance course of with the F.D.A. and doesn’t want the steerage that the invoice directs the company to difficulty.
Abortion rights teams have dismissed the invoice as a stunt aimed toward masking Republicans’ drive to crack down on each abortion and contraceptive entry.
“The legislation is not a genuine attempt to expand birth control,” mentioned Karen Stone, the vp of public coverage on the Deliberate Parenthood Motion Fund. “They’re posturing to save face with voters, all while failing to support existing legislation that would actually help people access over-the-counter birth control.”
The laws adopts the language of abortion opponents, suggesting that being pregnant begins on the level of fertilization fairly than when a fertilized egg is implanted within the uterus. Oral contraception is outlined within the invoice as a drug that “is used to prevent fertilization.”
“The language is kowtowing to the anti-abortion lobby and part of an orchestrated effort to redefine pregnancy based on religious ideology,” mentioned Dana Singiser, the co-founder of the nonprofit Contraception Entry Initiative. “This is the latest in a long line of bills that Republicans throw out there that purport to be pro-contraception bills. When you peel back the layers of the onion, there’s always a catch.”
Ms Miller-Meeks, a doctor, defended the laws, a model of which she has been championing since her days within the Iowa Senate.
“Taking a market-based approach will encourage investment in the over-the-counter birth control space without price controls or mandates, leading to increased access to these products without government overreach,” she mentioned. “As a pro-life congresswoman, I believe preventing unwanted pregnancies is paramount to protecting the sanctity of life.”
Ms. Miller-Meeks, together with different co-sponsors together with Consultant Stephanie Bice of Oklahoma, have opposed Democratic-led efforts to safeguard entry to contraception. They voted final 12 months with the overwhelming majority of Home Republicans to oppose laws to make sure entry to contraception nationwide, a proper that was thought to be newly below menace after the Supreme Courtroom’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. Anti-abortion teams inspired lawmakers to oppose the measure, claiming that its definition of contraceptives could possibly be interpreted to incorporate tablets that induce abortions. Solely eight Republicans voted with Democrats to assist the invoice, and most of them are now not in Congress.
The Republican playbook on contraception that Ms. Miller-Meeks and others are using isn’t new. In 2015, former Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, toiling to attraction to reasonable ladies voters, launched the same invoice that purported to permit ladies larger entry to contraception by encouraging drugmakers and the F.D.A. to make it simpler to promote contraceptive tablets over-the-counter.
Democrats on the time dismissed the invoice as a political ploy, saying it might end in much less entry to contraception as a result of it might enable insurers to cease protecting some forms of contraception.
Since then, Republicans’ issues about interesting to ladies voters and independents have solely grown, particularly after final 12 months’s Supreme Courtroom ruling. In Iowa, the state with the fewest obstetrician gynecologist specialists per capita within the nation, Gov. Kim Reynolds final month signed into regulation a brand new ban on abortions after roughly six weeks of being pregnant, when many ladies have no idea they’re pregnant.
The scenario has left Ms. Miller-Meeks in a precarious place. Democrats hope that flipping her seat shall be a part of their path to successful again the Home majority in 2024. Earlier this month, Christina Bohannan, a former state lawmaker who misplaced to Ms. Miller-Meeks in 2022, introduced she would run for the seat once more. She instantly raised $276,000, greater than some other congressional candidate in Iowa had raised of their first 24 hours.
Ms. Bohannan plans to make abortion rights central to her marketing campaign to unseat Ms. Miller-Meeks.
“About 61 percent of Iowans support the right to abortion in all or most cases,” she mentioned in an interview. “Representative Miller-Meeks has aligned herself with the most extreme members of her party instead of the people of Iowa on this issue, proposing one abortion ban over another.”
Ms. Bohannan dismissed the contraception invoice as a “purely political” textual content that was drafted “to provide political cover for her own record.”