Health

A comment from Trump and GOP actions in the states put contraceptive access in the 2024 spotlight

CHICAGO — (AP) — Republican lawmakers in states across the U.S. have been rejecting Democrats' efforts to protect or expand access to birth control, an issue Democrats are promoting as a major issue in this year's elections along with abortion and other reproductive rights concerns.

Former President Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee, pushed the issue into the political spotlight this week when he said in an interview that he was open to supporting restrictions on contraception before he reversed course and said he "has never and never will" advocate to restrict access to birth control. He went further in the post on his social media platform, saying "I do not support a ban on birth control, and neither will the Republican Party."

But recent moves in governor's offices and state legislatures across the country tell a more complicated story about Republicans' stances on contraception amid what reproductive rights advocates warn is a slow chipping away of access.

“Contraception is not as straightforward an issue for the GOP as Trump’s statement suggests," said Mary Ruth Ziegler, a law professor at the University of California, Davis School of Law and a leading abortion politics scholar. "That’s why a lot of right-to-contraception bills have been failing in both Congress and the states. Contraception is more contested than most people understand it to be.”

Trump's remarks this week and the increasing intensity of fights over contraceptives at the state level provide an opening for Democrats, who are seeking to capitalize on the issue as a potent driver of voter turnout in the fall — just as abortion has been since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a constitutional right to the procedure two years ago.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has said he wants a vote as soon as next month on a bill to protect access to contraception that is similar to one the U.S. House passed in 2022 when Democrats controlled the chamber. Even if that legislation fails to surmount the Senate's 60-vote filibuster hurdle, it will put Republicans on record on an issue that resonates personally with a wide swath of the electorate.

Voters already have shown they broadly support abortion rights, even in conservative states such as Kansas, Kentucky and Ohio where they have sided with abortion rights advocates on ballot measures over the past two years. Legislative tangling over contraception access has been less visible, but that has begun to change as the abortion debate begins to branch off to other areas of reproductive rights.

Earlier this month, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, vetoed bills from the Democratic-controlled Legislature that would have protected the right to contraception, saying he supports the right to it but that "we cannot trample on the religious freedoms of Virginians." He also said in his veto message that the measure would have interfered with the rights of parents.

A Missouri women's health care bill was stalled for months over concerns about expanding insurance coverage for birth control after some lawmakers falsely conflated birth control with medication abortion. In March, Arizona Republicans unanimously blocked a Democratic effort to protect the right to contraception access, and Tennessee Republicans blocked a bill that would have clarified that the state's abortion ban would not affect contraceptive care or fertility treatments.

Indiana adopted a law that requires hospitals to offer women who receive Medicaid coverage long-term reversible implantable contraceptives after giving birth — but only after stripping IUDs from the bill. That move was made over objections from Democrats and some healthcare providers.

Oklahoma's Republican-controlled legislature advanced legislation many reproductive rights advocates warned could ban emergency contraception and IUDs. And on Tuesday, the same day Trump made his statements to a Pittsburgh television station, Louisiana lawmakers advanced a measure that would make it a crime to possess two abortion-inducing drugs without a prescription, although pregnant women would be exempted.

“If you look at the policies that have been moving in states since the fall of Roe, we are seeing Republicans dismantle reproductive rights, including contraceptives,” said Heather Williams, president of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

Dr. Gabriel Bosslet, an associate professor of clinical medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine, raised concerns about some Republican arguments in favor of restricting access to contraceptives. He said, for example, that some anti-abortion groups have called on lawmakers to treat emergency contraception — such as IUDs — differently from barrier methods of contraception such as condoms by falsely labeling them as “abortifacients," claiming that they induce abortions.

Emergency contraception also is referred to as an “abortifacient” in the GOP's Project 2025 playbook, which is a blueprint for ways to reshape the federal government in the event of a Republican presidential win this year.

“This is part of a slow chipping away of contraception access," said Bosslet, who testified against the Indiana bill.

In Wisconsin, Democrats introduced a bill that was intended to protect contraception access last year, but it never got so much as a hearing in either the GOP-controlled state Assembly or state Senate before the two-year session ended in March. Senate Democrats tried to pull the bill from committee in February and force a floor vote, but all the chamber’s 22 Republicans voted against the move.

Asked Wednesday why the bill never got traction, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, a Republican, said his caucus would rarely let Democrats make such a move regardless of the topic, though he also said he wasn’t familiar with the details of the measure. After a reporter read parts of the bill to him, LeMahieu said the legislation seemed redundant.

“People can already get contraception,” he said. "Not sure why we’d need to pass that bill.”

About half the states have had legislation this year to establish a legal right to contraception, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports reproductive rights. As of May 1, the group found, the only state where one of those measures passed either legislative chamber was Virginia — though the bill was ultimately vetoed by the Republican governor.

Parental involvement in teens' birth control access also has become a point of contention since an April ruling upheld a Texas law requiring teens to get parental consent. Reproductive rights advocates have warned the ruling could open the door for other states to restrict teens' ability to access contraception. Meanwhile, efforts to place emergency contraceptives or "morning after" pill vending machines on college campuses also have sparked outrage from anti-abortion groups.

While Trump has sent mixed messages on reproductive rights, President Joe Biden has attacked his positions and highlighted their potential consequences. The Biden campaign this week warned that Trump, in light of the comments his campaign later walked back, would support other states taking similar action to restrict access to contraceptives.

"If Donald Trump returns to office, this terrifying agenda could spread across the country,” Ellie Schilling, a Tulane Law School professor, said on a conference call with reporters.

On that same call, Biden supporters noted that when the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, Justice Clarence Thomas issued a concurring opinion that troubled reproductive freedom advocates. He suggested that the court also reconsider previous opinions that prohibited bans on contraceptives, sodomy and same-sex marriage.

Ziegler, the UC Davis law school professor, said the same legal reasoning behind the decision to overturn Roe could be used against contraception access. If anti-abortion groups make the false argument that certain contraception methods induce abortion, she said they might be able to use the Comstock Act to try to restrict the distribution of materials related to contraception. The 19th-century law has been revived by anti-abortion groups seeking to block the abortion drug mifepristone from being sent through the mail.

“We’re seeing a borrowing of the anti-abortion playbook and seeing incremental attacks on contraception,” she said.

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Mulvihill reported from Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Associated Press writers Todd Richmond in Madison, Wisconsin, and Isabella Volmert in Indianapolis contributed to this report.

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The Associated Press receives support from several private foundations to enhance its explanatory coverage of elections and democracy. See more about AP's democracy initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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