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This Arizona lawmaker is trying to guarantee the right to contraception in the state

By Lauren Gilger
Published: Thursday, March 21, 2024 - 11:30am
Updated: Friday, March 22, 2024 - 8:43am

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Since the fall of Roe v. Wade, Democratic lawmakers in states across the country have focused on protecting other reproductive rights like contraception, sometimes preemptively.

We saw this on display last week at the Arizona Legislature when Democratic lawmakers attempted to force a vote on a bill to guarantee the right to contraception in our state, only to be blocked unanimously by Republicans.

One Republican leader, in response to questions about why they wouldn’t bring the bill up for a vote said that women should put aspirin “between your knees,” suggesting that they wouldn’t risk pregnancy if they weren’t promiscuous. But the GOP has also said this is an answer in search of a problem. There’s no bill this session to restrict the right to contraception.

Democratic state Sen. Priya Sundareshan, the sponsor of the contraception bill, spoke about it with The Show.

Woman in pink blazer speaks at podium
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Arizona state Sen. Priya Sundareshan at the Capitol on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024.

Full interview

PRIYA SUNDARESHAN: We are trying to protect the right to contraception because we know that at the state level, all of our rights, especially those related to reproduction and contraception, et cetera, and what we're choosing to do with our own bodies, everything is now at risk at the federal level now that the Supreme Court overturned the Dobbs decision, protecting the right to abortion. And then Justice Thomas in his opinion wrote that he'd like to revisit other Supreme Court precedents that have protected the right to contraception. So we know that it's all, a lot of these rights are now up to the states individually to be protecting.

So we felt that there was some urgency in protecting the right to contraception. We were not prepared for some of the statements. Yeah, it was, it was a surprise to hear some of the truly misogynistic comments that essentially put that burden of not getting pregnant on to essentially the woman, right Saying something like a woman needs to hold an aspirin between her knees. It's a shifting of responsibility. It's making this, making this about women in particular when we know contraception is something that both men and women support and rely on.

LAUREN GILGER: Republicans also said that there was, you know, no real problem here, that like contraceptive rights are not under attack in this Legislature in this session at this time. Are you concerned that that's not the case elsewhere?

SUNDARESHAN: Absolutely, I'm concerned. In overturning Roe versus Wade the Us Supreme Court has overruled precedent of, of 50 years worth of precedent. And so that's a very significant action and it shows that we're in a situation where a lot of the rights that we have relied on and may have once thought of as safe, are no longer safe. And so, you know, it really is up to each individual state to affirmatively protect these rights. And so just because this year, we haven't seen any bills that are seeking to restrict the right to contraception doesn't mean that we don't have to protect that right affirmatively.

And certainly what we've seen, you know, in other states very recently makes that, that even more urgent because, you know, we've got states like Alabama with the court ruling that held that in vitro fertilization was now subject to some of their extreme attacks on abortion. And, and you know, opens that it really just shows that there's other areas of reproduction and contraception that are, that are potentially going to be threatened, you know. So I don't think that just because this year there aren't threats to the right to contraception doesn't mean that we don't have the duty to affirmatively protect the right.

Just last year, we've seen laws similar to the Alabama outcome. We saw a bill from Rep. Matt Gress that would have enshrined some aspects of fetal personhood into Arizona law. So we know that these threats as recently as last year have been introduced. And so I don't think that we can kind of sit and feel safe about any of it.

Sam Ballesteros/Cronkite News
Sen. Priya Sundareshan (D-Tucson) on Feb. 21, 2024.

GILGER: There's also a political side to this too, right? Like, did you also want to get Republicans on the record as against this kind of legislation because contraception is, you know, broadly popular among voters.

SUNDARESHAN: Absolutely. You know, we, we know, because we know the polling, that Arizona voters, American voters support the right to contraception. We had done what we thought could potentially move that ball forward by protecting the right in the state, by introducing the bills in for to protect the right to contraception in state law. We're wondering why the Republican majority hasn't moved forward with it.

And so yes, we wanted to request, one, that we could enshrine this into state law. But two, yeah, let's, let's get the Republican legislators to put, put a vote up. Let's let's find out where do the Republican legislators stand as it, where it comes to the right to contraception and having the vote on the board is a, is a clear way to do so.

GILGER: Democrats, I know we're really trying to take over one or both of the chambers in the state Legislature next session. Do you think this is the kind of issue that will play into your hands even though, you know, they may have a registration advantage in many districts?

SUNDARESHAN: Yes. We in the Democratic Party are absolutely certain that this abortion issue and the contraception issue, all of these rights, the ability for people to control what's happening with their body free from government interference, we know that that's something that Arizona voters want. And the more that we can show that the Republican-led Legislature and the slim majority that they have is still preventing the ability to protect these rights, that's part and parcel of what we're trying to show as we make the case for why a Democratic majority in the Legislature will be much better for Arizonans.

GILGER: Last question for you then, Senator, we heard Sen. Eva Burch speak out about her own abortion story and experience [on the Legislature floor] this week. And I think one of the points she was really trying to make was that these are issues that affect people in their real lives, including her. So I wonder on this issue of contraception, like how does this affect you personally?

SUNDARESHAN: Sen. Burch was very brave in revealing what she is going through right now and tying it specifically to what she has had the, to go through, the hoops she's had to jump through in order to receive the abortion, the necessary medical care that she needed. For me, you know, when I talk about these rights, it's about being able to plan for my family. I've recently had my children in the last four years, two boys.

I was most recently pregnant with my second boy and watching the Arizona Legislature pass laws that would have impacted whether or not, if I found out information during the course of the pregnancy that could, you know, impact the outcome, whether or not I would have access to the full suite of reproductive health care. So I've certainly experienced that, and I've also, as it comes to the right to contraception, been able to take advantage of the fact that I wanted to plan my family and where they were going to be born and make sure that I could, I could do that kind of family planning.

And it's, it's thanks to the whole suite of these rights, medical care, the ability to do what I want with my body and to be able to plan for my family effectively, that contraception is so important, too.

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