Anti-reproductive health policymakers are purposely hiding birth control restrictions
Some policymakers are trying to incorrectly re-define pregnancy in law in an effort to ban abortion and birth control. A significant number of states have attempted this through definitions of “human being” and “person.” Several have specifically incorporated definitions that human life and/or pregnancy begins when a sperm fertilizes an egg, despite the fact that the medical definition of when pregnancy begins is after implantation. This unscientific definition of human life and pregnancy would not only outlaw abortion, but also could criminalize birth control and other health care, such as in vitro fertilization.
This Has Been Happening and Is Happening Right Now, in States
- A failed Mississippi ballot initiative in 2011 sought to amend the state’s constitution to define life as beginning at the moment of fertilization.28 Voters rejected this measure 58%-42%, but this did not stop groups from attempting to introduce similar measures in years going forward.29
- In Texas, SB8, which is now law, bans abortion as early as six weeks of pregnancy and defines “pregnancy” in a way that includes “begins with fertilization.”30 SB8 effectively bans nearly all abortions in the state–and is designed to intimidate and harm those seeking abortion or those helping people access this basic health care. While SB8 has received much public attention, its definition of pregnancy has not received much focus yet and could be very problematic. SB8 could be utilized against any contraceptive that the state claims, accurately or not, interferes with implantation.
- In the wake of the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion, Louisiana legislators attempted to advance a bill to ban abortion. It would have redefined “person” in the state code to include “a human being from the moment of fertilization” and “unborn child” to mean “an individual human being from fertilization.”31 Had these definitions become law, it could have threatened access to emergency contraception.
Anti-reproductive health policymakers are challenging the constitutional right to birth control
The constitutional right to contraception recognized by the Supreme Court in 1965, in Griswold v. Connecticut,32 is under attack from policymakers.
- Marsha Blackburn described the decision in Griswold as “constitutionally unsound”33 in a video she made opposing the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.
- Candidates running for office in Arizona and Michigan have said Griswold was wrongly decided.34
These efforts are fueled further by the leaked draft opinion in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health case. The draft opinion attacks the right to privacy, which is not only the basis for abortion rights, but also for the right to contraception and many other rights. The rationale of the leaked draft puts many of the most fundamental rights our society is built around—including the right to access contraception—in jeopardy. While the draft opinion claims that it will “only” allow states to ban abortion, it provides a clear blueprint for undermining or overturning the right to access contraception.
The blatant desire to undermine and, eventually, overturn the constitutional right to access contraception is particularly concerning because Griswold is one of the key protections against the legislative attacks on birth control that have already been attempted at the state and federal level described above.
This matters now more than ever.
The volume and tenor of attacks on birth control and abortion are louder and more aggressive than ever and will only escalate if the Supreme Court overturns the constitutional right to abortion or allows increasing restrictions on the right. At its core, the opposition to abortion and birth control is very similar: a desire to limit people’s self-determination, ability to exercise autonomy over their own bodies, and decision making.
Access to birth control does not solve the problems created when abortion access is curtailed. Access to birth control can, however, help some people prevent pregnancy and avoid the increasing hurdles in their way to access abortion care they need. In this moment, it is critical to ensure access to all reproductive health care–everyone deserves the freedom to decide when or whether they want to grow a family.
Commonly Targeted Birth Control Methods
Emergency Contraceptive Pills
Emergency contraception (EC) generally refers to pills that can be taken after sexual intercourse to prevent pregnancy. Nearly 1 in 500 surveyed women who use birth control report having used emergency contraception.35,36 The efficacy of emergency contraception decreases the more time passes between unprotected sex and when it is taken.
- Levonorgestrel: This is the active pharmaceutical ingredient in one form of emergency contraception (marketed under the brand name Plan B as well as several generic versions). It prevents pregnancy by preventing ovulation and preventing fertilization. There are no studies that show it prevents implantation, although at one time that was a hypothesized mechanism of action. It is effective up to 72 hours after sexual intercourse. Levonorgestrel is available over the counter (without a prescription) to people of all ages.37
- Ulipristal: This is the active pharmaceutical ingredient in another pill form of emergency contraception marketed under the name ella. Ulipristal also works by preventing ovulation and fertilization. It is effective up to five days after sexual intercourse and has a higher rate of efficacy in people who weigh over 85 kg compared to levonorgestrel. ella requires a prescription.
Intrauterine Devices (IUD)
- IUDs are devices that can be inserted into the uterus to prevent pregnancy. In some cases they can also be inserted after sexual intercourse to prevent pregnancy.38 Approximately 13% of people who use contraception use an IUD, and those who use an IUD report very high rates of satisfaction.39,40
- Copper IUDs: The copper IUD can be used as a form of emergency contraception if placed within five days of sexual intercourse.41 Copper IUDs affect the motility of sperm and prevent fertilization. IUDs require a provider to place them. Copper IUDs are effective for ten years after they are placed.
- Hormonal IUDs: Hormonal IUDs release hormones that prevent pregnancy by preventing ovulation and fertilization. They are more popular for contraception than copper IUDs because they can also ease symptoms of heavy periods.