Republicans are taking aim on contraception — and they’d rather you didn’t know

Despite recent claims from many Republicans that they are trying to protect contraceptive access, their legislative votes say otherwise

Kelly Rissman
New York
Monday 12 February 2024 19:27 GMT
Biden warns against Trump's threat to abortion rights

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


The fall of Roe v Wade in 2022 sparked fears that access to contraception could soon follow. A look into their legislative votes suggests that those fears are not unfounded.

We previously reported that Republicans standing for re-election this year keep changing what they say about abortion on their public websites. Many would rather the public didn’t bring up their voting records on contraception, either.

Despite prominent Republicans’ claims to the contrary, “Republicans have a long history of attacking contraception,” says Dana Singiser, cofounder of the nonprofit Contraceptive Access Initiative. And since the Dobbs decision, “it is getting harder and harder for Republicans to actually hide their long-standing opposition to contraception.”

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his concurring opinion on Dobbs that the court “should reconsider” its long-standing rulings, including the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut decision, which granted married couples the right to use contraceptives without government oversight. (The Eisenstadt v. Baird decision seven years later granted unmarried couples the same right.)

“If that’s not a direct threat, I don’t know what is,” Ms Singiser says.

In the wake of Justice Thomas’ opinion, Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn called the Griswold decision on contraception “constitutionally unsound” and Republican Sen. Mike Braun voiced his opinion that the issue of contraceptive access should be left to the states.

Since then, Democrats have campaigned on protecting abortion and contraception — and they have repeatedly won elections.

President Biden recently announced new steps that the administration is taking to reduce barriers to contraceptive access. On X/Twitter, Mr Biden accused “MAGA Republicans” of “trying to stop women in America from getting safe and effective medication that has been approved by the FDA for over 20 years, even in states where women’s health care choices are still protected.”

Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene took issue with the president’s tweet, firing back: “‘MAGA Republicans’ are trying to stop women from getting contraceptives? Nope.” She continued, “Old man Joe needs to stop lying to women that the only way to avoid unplanned pregnancy is to take an abortion pill or have an abortion.”

Despite her assertion, members of her party have repeatedly rejected measures aiming to expand or protect contraceptive access.

“When the rubber hits the road, support for contraception in the Republican Party simply isn’t there,” Ms Singiser says.

In 2022, Rep. Greene voted against the Right to Contraception Act — along with 194 of her GOP colleagues. Only eight Republicans supported the measure. Of those eight, five are no longer in office.

That bill is “as simple as it gets,” says Rachel Fey, Vice President of Policy and Strategic Partnerships at the nonpartisan nonprofit Power to Decide. If someone didn’t support this measure, then “it’s really hard to say that you support contraception.”

Yet the Republicans who opposed the measure offered a variety of explanations.

Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers called the bill “a Trojan horse for more abortions,” adding that it is “spreading fear and misinformation to score political points.” Arizona Rep. Debbie Lesko claimed that the measure “permits the widespread use of chemical abortion pills.”

Others, Dr Larry Bucshon, a physician-turned-Indiana Representative, and Oklahoma Rep. Stephanie Bice, said they opposed the bill because the language was too ambiguous. Mr Bucshon said the measure “could be applied to chemical abortion drugs to end a pregnancy in addition to traditional contraceptives.”

Florida Rep. Kat Cammack called the bill “completely unnecessary,” adding that: “In no way, shape or form is access to contraception limited or at risk of being limited.”

Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz explained his opposition to the Right to Contraception Act, writing on X/Twitter: “Contraception likely needs protection FROM Congress more than it needs protection BY Congress. If there is any entity you don’t want involved in your contraception choices - it’s the federal gov.”

However, Democratic Rep. Kathy Manning, who introduced the legislation, explained her reasoning behind the bill: “We will not play defense anymore; this time we’re playing offense.” The Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v Wade had been made a month earlier.

But the party-line issue of contraception access has long predated Dobbs.

Partisan fights over Planned Parenthood and Title X, a federal program dedicated to family planning services including publicly funded contraceptive care, go back to the 1970s. And since 2007, Congress has introduced bills that would defund entities that perform abortions, therefore threatening contraceptive access.

“When money doesn’t go to that program, people who lack health insurance don’t get contraception,” Ms Fey says.

When public funding for contraceptive care is threatened, she adds, the burden “falls disproportionately on women of color, on people who live in rural areas, and people who are struggling to make ends meet.”

In 2021, Republicans rejected the Equal Access to Contraception for Veterans Act, a measure that would give women veterans access to the same no-cost contraception as non-veteran women. The bill eventually passed, but 181 Republicans voted against it.

Montana Rep. Matt Rosendale falsely claimed on the House floor that “drugs like Plan B and Ella [two morning-after pills] are not contraception, they are abortifacients.”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene also made the erroneous claim that “the Plan B pill kills a baby in the womb once a woman is already pregnant.”

Indeed, spreading misinformation and disinformation about contraception seems to have become a Republican strategy. Some have been “purposefully” pushing misinformation and disinformation around contraception “in order to have a more expansive set of restrictions on reproductive health,” Ms Fey said.

She added, “Policymakers who want to go after contraception have found that an expedient way to do that is to link it to abortion by claiming that methods of contraception are actually methods of abortion.”

Tucked away in some pieces of federal and state legislation are definitions of pregnancy, stating that pregnancy begins at fertilization rather than implantation. While these definitions are typically found in abortion bills, this language threatens some common forms of contraception, like IUDs and emergency contraception. It could also potentially stop the use of IVF entirely.

On the federal level, physician and Iowa Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks and nine other Republican women introduced the Orally Taken Contraception Act of 2023, aiming to require the FDA to advise manufacturers on how to get their contraceptives approved to be sold over-the-counter.

Ms Singiser calls this bill another one of the GOP’s “hollow efforts to mask their terrible position on contraception.” The measure’s language is limiting, defining contraceptives as those being “used to prevent fertilization.”

Some state measures do the same. Arkansas’ trigger ban, for instance, defines life as beginning “at the moment of conception” and defines “unborn child” as an “individual organism of the species Homo sapiens from fertilization until live birth.”

The danger that these laws pose, Ms Fey says, is that “anytime that a particular state official wants to, they could use that to go after IVF or contraception.”

The misinformation around emergency contraceptives became so severe that in December 2022, it sparked the FDA to release a memo clarifying that Plan B “does not terminate a pregnancy.”

Whether far-right politicians like it or not, contraceptive care is hugely popular. A 2022 Gallup poll showed that 92 per cent of Americans say birth control is “morally acceptable.”

There have been some successful efforts to protect contraception on the state level. At least 30 states and Washington, DC require eligible insurers to cover FDA-approved prescribed contraceptive drugs and devices, and 17 states and DC prohibit contraceptive cost-sharing.

But, Ms Singiser points out, “a lot of those proactive measures are all happening in the same state,” contributing to contraceptive access deserts. The existence of these deserts “inevitably exacerbates the racial inequities in care in this country based on where you live.”

Such a situation underscores the need for federal protections.

Not all Republicans take such a radical stance against contraception, of course. Some have even actively worked toward protecting the right to access it. Republican Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski — along with Independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema — introduced the Reproductive Freedom For All Act of 2023, which would codify access to abortion and contraceptive services. But increasingly, the MAGA side of the Republican Party is winning out, and that’s bad news for women’s rights.

Republicans’ stances on abortion have backfired electorally since the Dobbs decision fell. If voters become more aware of how many far-right voices in the party would also restrict contraception, it’s reasonable to presume that it could hurt the GOP even more.

“What Republicans can’t seem to grasp is that it doesn’t matter what they say, it matters what they do — and what they do is push unpopular and outright dangerous policies that roll back our fundamental rights,” Reproductive Freedom for All Communications Director Ally Boguhn tells The Independent.

Citing abortion bans and blocking important legislation designed to protect contraception, she adds, “It’s clear they don’t care about their constituents’ health or well-being. You can’t message your way out of that, and that’s why they’ll keep losing.”

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