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Opinion: It’s time to set the record straight on birth control

Editor’s Note: Danielle Campoamor is a freelance writer formerly of TODAY and NBC. The views expressed here are her own. Read more opinion on CNN.

If you’re afraid contraception is on the GOP chopping block, you should be. In fact, the war on birth control is already here, and the Republicans’ battle plan relies on the same tactic that paved the way for Roe v. Wade to fall: Disinformation.

Danielle Campoamor - Ashley Batz
Danielle Campoamor - Ashley Batz

On TikTok, some right-wing commentators are erroneously claiming that birth control causes infertility (it does not). Now that women are choosing to have children later in life and either waiting longer to get married or foregoing marriage altogether, some conservatives have demonized contraception, arguing that access to birth control has, as The Washington Post notes, “altered traditional gender roles and weakened the family.”

One doctor — Michael Belmonte, an Ob-Gyn practicing in Washington, DC — told the Post he is seeing the “direct failures of this misinformation,” as he says more people from states that have passed near-total abortion bans are traveling to his practice to end unwanted pregnancies that occurred as a result of their belief in the so-called dangers of hormonal birth control.

“People are putting themselves out there as experts on birth control and speaking to things that the science does not bear out,” Belmonte said.

Those same right-wing commentators and some lawmakers are simultaneously spreading outright lies about emergency contraception, likening the morning-after pill to an abortion when it has no impact on any existing pregnancy whatsoever.

After Democratic lawmakers in Mississippi attempted to enshrine the right to birth control in state law, Republican State Sen. Joey Fillingane argued doing so would legalize “morning-after abortions.” To be clear, “morning-after abortions” are not a thing.

In 2021 — before the fall of Roe — Missouri Republican lawmakers, led by then-State Sen. Paul Wieland, attempted to block Medicaid funding for access to IUDs and emergency contraception. “The bottom line is there is only one time something definitively happens and that’s the moment of conception,” Wieland said at the time. “Once that happens, anything that happens should not be state funded.”

The Supreme Court itself put a target on birth control 10 years ago, when issuing its decision in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case. The Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, who argued that the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate violated their religious beliefs solely because they falsely claimed emergency contraception is an abortifacient (a substance that induces a miscarriage and ends a pregnancy).

In the Supreme Court’s opinion, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that those contraception methods “may have the effect of preventing an already fertilized egg from developing any further by inhibiting its attachment to the uterus.”

Again, emergency contraception does not prevent the implantation of an already fertilized egg, but like their law-making counterparts, the conservative judges on the highest court in the land seem to have little regard for science, medicine, facts or reality.

It’s far too easy for many to dismiss disinformation and misinformation — the intentional and unintentional spread of false information — about contraception as a small, albeit problematic, issue. It was only a few years ago that some dismissed the fear that the results of the 2016 presidential election could result, among other egregious atrocities, in the end of the constitutional right to an abortion.

Today, voters may assume access to contraception is here to stay — a long-settled issue. But if we’ve learned anything in the last eight years, it’s that what at one point was taken for granted and considered a certainty to many can vanish as a direct result of online disinformation.

And birth control can become a thing of the past.

Conservative disinformation regarding birth control is already working. One 2023 study of 2,060 community college students assigned female at birth found that 69% of participants “worried about contraception affecting their future fertility.” The same study found that those concerns are directly associated with their decision to forego using contraception altogether.

Another 2023 study conducted by two University of Delaware researchers who analyzed 50 “lifestyle and fitness” YouTube videos found that at least three-quarters of the posts contained “inaccurate or incomplete information about birth control,” which “could mislead followers who perceived them as credible,” according to the University of Delaware’s UDaily.

This is the already-dead canary in the coal mine that is the Republican party’s ongoing attack on women, bodily autonomy and the inalienable right to choose if, when and how to start and raise a family.

Make no mistake: Lying about abortion care was and remains a pivotal part of the GOP’s plan to outlaw abortion altogether. For decades, GOP politicians and Republican talking heads have vilified abortions, a pivotal part of family planning and most frequently obtained by moms who already have at least one child at home.

In 2012, the Republican platform adopted language from the anti-abortion group Americans United for Life, which included claims that abortion “endangers the health and well-being of women” despite studies showing that denying pregnant people abortion care harms their mental health, leaves them more likely to live below the poverty line, more likely to stay tethered to an abusive partner and negatively impacts any living children they already have.

By spreading lies about the so-called harms of abortion, Republicans successfully turned a personal health care issue into a political one, swaying an ill-informed electorate just enough to decimate access to care a vast majority of Americans actually believe should be made legally available.

If disinformation about contraceptives is left to spread unchecked both online and in the halls of Congress, the same will happen to birth control — and it will be the most marginalized and vulnerable among us that suffer.

Studies show that access to birth control decreases the odds of intimate partner violence, facilitates higher education and career advancement and improves the lives of children a person already has. Birth control has contributed to women’s wage increases, can treat debilitating menstrual cramps, ovarian cysts and endometriosis and, surprise, surprise, reduces the rate of unplanned pregnancies and pregnancy-related deaths. 
 
Like abortion, if access to birth control is curtailed or dismantled altogether, Black, brown, Indigenous, LGBTQ+ and young people, as well as those living at or below the poverty line, will be forced into parenthood. Their health, well-being, children and communities will all be harmed as a result. Studies show that low-income women and girls already lack sufficient knowledge of and access to contraception.

In March, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that parents in Texas can deny their teens access to birth control, despite numerous studies showing that, when teens are denied access to contraceptives, they are more likely to engage in unsafe sexual behavior, leaving them at increased risk of adolescent pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.

So don’t prepare for the war on birth control because it’s already here. Instead, start fighting back.

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