Advocates say access to contraception will be the next battleground

Advocates say access to contraception will be the next battleground

This article was originally published at Prism.

Conservative lawmakers are targeting contraception access in the latest fight over reproductive rights. Legislators in states like Missouri, Louisiana, and Arizona have been vocal about challenging access to contraception like intrauterine devices (IUDs) and emergency contraception like Plan B, claiming that life begins at the moment of conception. While the conversation has been heightened in the weeks following the Supreme Court draft leak, advocates say this rhetoric is not new, and they are prepared to continue pushing back against restrictions.

In the U.S., 70% of reproductive-age women support making birth control pills available over the counter. According to 2018 data from the Guttmacher Institute, 21% of contraceptive users aged 15 to 49 used the pill as their main form of contraception, and 13% used IUDs. In 2015, 23% of contraceptive users aged 15 to 44 had used emergency contraceptive pills, up from 11% in 2008. Emergency contraceptive use increased across almost every social and demographic characteristic, including age, race and ethnicity, income level, education, religion, and marital status between 2008 and 2015. Advocates say banning these methods of contraception will mean more forced births.

“Across the country, we’re seeing people speak out in support of reproductive health care, including abortion and contraception,” said Victoria Nichols, the project director of Free the Pill, an education and advocacy campaign in support of an over-the-counter birth control option in the U.S. “Policymakers who want to roll back contraceptive access do not represent the majority in this country.”

Nichols said the country needs policies that support equitable access to birth control and expand reproductive health care options, especially for those who experience systemic barriers. This includes over-the-counter birth control pills that are affordable, fully covered by insurance, and accessible for all who want and need it.

Republican senators like Tennessee’s Marsha Blackburn and Senate candidates like Arizona’s Blake Masters have recently come out against Griswold v. Connecticut, a 1965 court decision legalizing contraception. In April, Blackburn called the decision “constitutionally unsound” during confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. Though it has since been removed from his campaign website, Masters also vowed to only confirm federal judges who agree that Griswold v. Connecticut was unconstitutional, and the same goal regarding Roe and Casey remain visible. Additionally, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves refused to rule out limiting contraception once Roe falls.

“We’ve already known that the opposition is not stopping at just banning abortion,” said Eloisa Lopez, the executive director of Abortion Fund of Arizona. “They have already been going after contraceptive access.”

Arizona has a 1930 law that, though unenforced, bans the advertising of abortion and contraception services or medicines. The law makes someone who willfully “writes, composes or publishes” advertisement guilty of a misdemeanor.

“We are fully aware that they will try this,” Lopez said. “It’s not new information. But we all are advocates on the side of fighting for abortion access and our reproductive health.”

Most recently, Louisiana lawmakers voted against a bill that would have outlawed certain forms of birth control, including IUDs. HB 813 originally attempted to immediately classify all abortion as homicide. It would have criminalized the behavior of both abortion providers and abortion-seeking patients. But due to heightened controversy, legislators voted to change the bill’s language. The bill now includes prison time and fines for abortion providers. It explicitly exempts pregnant people who undergo abortions from criminal charges and exempts birth control and fertility treatments from being outlawed.

While Louisiana organizers defeated the outright ban on contraception, organizers in Missouri say they recently faced a summer-long legislative battle against banning contraceptive coverage through Medicaid. In 2021, the Missouri Senate rejected a push to ban Planned Parenthood as a Medicaid provider. The intent was to limit when the state will pay for several contraceptive drugs and devices by redefining their function as abortion.

“We know that Missouri legislature has been coming after contraception for some time, and that their attacks on abortion are never going to stop,” said Mallory Schwarz, the executive director of Pro-Choice Missouri. “We were able to ultimately beat it back. It was a huge victory for all people that need reproductive health care in the state.”

Schwarz said the fight for access to contraception exposed lawmakers’ remedial understanding of how reproduction works, that the battle is really about a desire to gain power and control, and that there is a growing disconnect between what Missourians want and what extremist politicians want.

“There has been this discrepancy between the values and the issues people will vote on and then the lawmakers that they put in charge,” Schwarz said. “I think part of our victory and beating back this attack on contraception was that extremist Missourian politicians are willing to jeopardize the state’s entire federal funding for Medicaid, millions and millions of dollars, in order to block people who are trying to survive on low incomes from getting access to the contraception they need.”

Schwarz said by exposing the state’s “bullying” of the community’s most vulnerable because of “their obsession with controlling people’s bodies,” they were able to shine a light to the issue.

“I think these ideological politicians will not stop until they can maintain control,” Schwarz said. “We made it out of session last year by the skin of our teeth.”

Schwarz said she expects to see more attacks on contraception and efforts to criminalize pregnant people seeking abortions and access to care. As the rest of the country prepares for similar battles, she suggests reaching out to politicians and letting them know people need their right to contraception protected.

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