Understanding the Republican War on Birth Control

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It’s 2017. The birth control pill has been approved by the FDA for general use for 57 years. And yet, access and coverage of birth control is still a very much political issue, and in the era of Trump, is only gaining steam. But, why? With birth control use, and specifically the use of the pill, nearly ubiquitous, why is this such an issue?

Last week we wrote about a bill proposed by Nevada that would essentially give easier access to birth control for poor and rural communities by allowing folks to get 12 months worth of birth control at a time. To a liberal East Coast democrat like myself, this seems like a no-brainer. But so far, only seven states have adopted such laws.

As of 2012, more than 9.7 million women in the U.S. were currently on the pill (according to a study by the Guttmacher Institute). To put that in perspective, that’s about 4 million more than who use the condom. That’s right, the pill has outshined the condom. And yet the pill is heavily regulated and the condom is well, not.  And let’s be real, those aren’t just Democrats who are on the pill. So if Democrats are on the pill, and Republicans are on the pill, why is this still a fight to the death?

To understand, we need to go back in time a bit.

The pill was approved for the general public in 1960 and it was pretty much a political issue from the start. Multiple states banned the use of contraceptives until a 1965 Supreme Court case declared the ban unconstitutional.

But the Republicans weren’t giving up so fast. By 1979, the Christian right had formed the “Moral Majority,” which advocated against women’s rights, the ERA, and sex education. Throughout the 1980s, the Christian Coalition turned their attention to abortion, with birth control seemingly in the rear side mirror.

But the birth control fight was re-energized after the Affordable Care Act was signed into law in 2010 when insurers were mandated to cover contraceptives. It spurned the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case in 2014, which decided that small, religious business owners do not, in fact, have to off coverage for birth control.

And yet today, the Christian right is a minority of the population (there’s a reason there are only about 36 members of the Freedom Causes in the House out of 435 members total — that’s a little over 8%). And while the Republicans may have protested birth control in the 1960s due to moral reasons, that’s just not the case anymore.  A recent survey found that 2/3 of young Republicans believed “every adult woman should have access to affordable, effective birth control.”

It begs the question: where’s the disconnect? If Republicans are not opposed to access to birth control, why aren’t bills like the one proposed in Nevada just sailing through? According to the National Review, a conservative website, “many aren’t sure that lack of access to affordable contraception is a serious problem.”

Additionally, the election of Trump has inspired the far right to reignite the fight against birth control. Trump hired Katy Talento as the Domestic Policy Counsel to the White House, with a focus on health care. The problem with that? Talento is a fierce anti-birth control advocate. In 2015, she wrote a piece to discourage women from using birth control by claiming that the pill and IUDs caused miscarriage and infertility (it doesn’t, by the way). In numerous ways, Trump’s administration only seems to encourage the loud minority.

Despite all of this, the birth control fight is hopeful. While many Republicans weren’t fans of the ACA, they weren’t necessarily opposed to the birth control part. It only took about a half a century to get free access to birth control for all U.S. citizens — that may seem like a while, but consider the fact that it took nearly 1.5 times as long to abolition slavery in this country. And while Trump may be a fan of ending free access to birth control, that hasn’t stopped new technologies from emerging in the industry. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is currently working on a remote-control implant that would last 16 years, birth control pills for men is in the research stage, and new laws in California are allowing women to get the pill straight from a pharmacist without a prescription. And with a new generation of young Republicans unopposed to access and coverage of birth control, we might just have a win on our hands yet.

Lena Finkel
Lena Finkel is the Editor and Founder of Femestella. Prior to starting Femestella, she worked at People, InStyle, Tiger Beat, and Sesame Workshop (aka Sesame Street). She loves all things Real Housewives and Vanderpump Rules. When she's not busy binge-watching TV, you can find her hanging out with her tuxedo cat Tom.