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The GOP’s Plan to Ban Birth Control (Part II)
Republicans' multi-million dollar contraception gag rule
Read the first part of this ongoing series about the Republican attacks on contraception:
Republicans sure are talking a lot about birth control! Nikki Haley has made asking, “Can’t we all agree that contraception should be available?,” a regular talking point in speeches and on the campaign trail. Other Republican women are making a big show of proposing legislation they claim will protect contraception (experts say otherwise). Even Mike Pence is getting in on the action, telling Fox News that he “fully” supports birth control.
With voters’ post-Roe fury showing no sign of abating, conservatives are eager to seem reasonable on reproductive rights—that increasingly means promising Americans that they support contraception and would never, ever try to make it illegal.
But the assurances are empty promises, meant to placate voters out of noticing that our ability to access contraception is being eroded with every new conservative policy. After all, Republicans don’t need to explicitly outlaw birth control in order to keep women from taking it—they just have to make it impossible to obtain.
If your pharmacist has the right to refuse you emergency contraception, it’s irrelevant whether the medication is legal or not. If your insurance company can deny you coverage for an IUD, who cares what the law says? And if the only ‘clinic’ in your area is a crisis pregnancy center with a policy against prescribing or even talking about birth control, Republicans can still claim that contraception is legal—even as women are unable to get any.
It’s that last tactic that the GOP is making their biggest and most expensive bet on: anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers. While OBGYNs flee anti-choice states en masse and abortion bans shut down what’s often a community’s only reproductive health clinic, Republicans are enabling a massive expansion of crisis pregnancy centers—asserting that the groups will fill the healthcare gap their policies caused.
Tennessee, for example, boosted their support from $3 million to $20 million in the last year. (Gov. Bill Lee actually wanted it to be $100 million.) Florida now funds the centers to the tune of $25 million, up from $4.5 million. And Texas went from giving $5 million every two years to a record-high $100 million for 2022 and 2023.
And while most people understand that crisis pregnancy centers are anti-abortion, many don’t know that they’re also anti-contraception. The groups can’t prescribe birth control (after all, they’re not real medical clinics), nor can staff even talk about birth control or refer women to anyplace that does.
Republicans are funding a multi-million dollar gag rule on contraception. They’re stripping communities of medical providers who offer real care, and replacing them with ideologues who will only talk about birth control to warn women away from it.
In other words, conservatives are using the post-Roe care crisis—a crisis they created—as an opportunity to funnel millions of taxpayers dollars to religious groups. To add insult to injury, they insist this is all for our own good—framing the dramatic increase in support as proof that they actually do care about women’s health.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds described her state’s uptick in funding, for example, as evidence that they’re “supporting healthy families.” Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves says it’s about the state doing “everything in its power to deliver the support moms and babies deserve.” Republicans won’t even calling them ‘crisis pregnancy centers’ anymore, but ‘maternal wellness centers’. Never mind that the groups don’t have doctors on staff. (When one Louisiana lawmaker was asked why they didn’t mandate that crisis pregnancy centers employ licensed medical providers, she replied it was simply “too much of a financial burden.”)
Again, these platitudes are meant to make us forget that conservative policies created vast maternal health deserts across the country. And that instead of trying to fix that problem, Republicans are populating those desperate communities with religious organizations posing as medical clinics.
We already know that crisis pregnancy centers spread misinformation about contraception. A recent report on the groups in Ohio, for example, found that in addition to refusing to discuss contraception, staff at one center told women that birth control “causes an abortion.” (A common Republican refrain, as you know from Part I of this series.) Another staffer at a Maryland center told an investigator that she couldn’t give a referral for birth control because contraception is “next to aborting your baby.”
Examples like these aren’t anomalies, and the staff aren’t rare extremists. Opposing birth control is a major pillar of these centers’ beliefs, and they teach their employees and volunteers accordingly. When a Mother Jones reporter went to a 2022 conference of anti-abortion centers, for example, she watched staff learn about how to handle a “young, unmarried female client” who had a pregnancy scare:
“The crisis pregnancy center workers, the slideshow says, should warn her about the side effects and risks of hormonal birth control and point out that birth control won’t protect her from sexually transmitted infections. Condoms might appear to be the perfect solution—no side effects, protection against STD’s—but apparently they too are a problem. The PowerPoint claimed that barrier methods like condoms are ‘often ineffective,’ before getting to the overriding point and asserting that ‘the goal of birth control is preventing sexual intercourse from resulting in its natural, intended biological result: children.’”
For Republicans, this kind of anti-birth control extremism is the point—no matter what their frenzied talking points say. The reason they’re investing so heavily in crisis pregnancy centers is because they’re anti-birth control. And while they’ll never say as much aloud, their legislation speaks volumes.
In Louisiana, for example, “eligible maternal wellness centers” must be affiliated with one of three large anti-abortion networks—Heartbeat International, Care Net, or the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates. All three networks prohibit their affiliates from dispensing or “promoting” birth control.
Texas’ requirements are similarly unambiguous: A law that went into effect this month creating a network of anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers and ‘maternity homes’, SB24, explicitly prohibits contractors from providing birth control.
So while Republicans do the media rounds pretending to support contraception, they’re passing legislation to ensure their communities have as little access as possible. As they tout their ‘reasonable’ and ‘moderate’ stances on contraception, conservative lawmakers are defunding Planned Parenthoods and running legitimate family planning clinics out of town; they’re passing abortion bans that make it impossible to retain or recruit OBGYNs; and they’re restricting tele-health so that women don’t have the ability to get care from out-of-state providers. All while giving tens of millions of dollars to groups that actively work to dissuade women and girls from using birth control.
Crisis pregnancy centers already outnumber real health clinics by a factor of 3:1. What do we think those numbers will look like once this exponentially increased funding hits?
And remember, Republicans not only want anti-abortion centers to be in every town, in every state—they also want the people who run these centers to establish a national network of ‘maternity homes’, and to target school-aged girls by offering free sports physicals to female students. (The hope, they say, is to “engage early” with this vulnerable population.) This isn’t just about ensuring that people can’t get the abortions or contraception they need—but that community after community is indoctrinated with dangerous and false information about their reproductive health.
The strategy is insidious, but smart; it allows Republicans to embed their extremism into communities across the country, while maintaining that they’re just trying to support women, babies and families. In a moment when Americans are furious about abortion bans and the steady stream of post-Roe horror stories, conservatives know they need to rehab their image and convince the public that their ‘pro-family’ plan goes beyond banning abortion and punishing women. They believe these centers are the answer.
But their plan relies on people not knowing the truth about what crisis pregnancy centers really are, and what their spread really means. That’s why Democrats have to constantly raise the alarm about just how deceptive these groups are—and why the GOP is so interested in supporting them. Voters need to know that conservatives’ interest in expanding crisis pregnancy centers isn’t just about stopping people from getting abortions, but ensuring Americans can’t get contraception, either.
With Republicans relying so heavily on their ‘reasonable’ birth control talking points, they’re giving us an incredible opportunity to tell voters what their real agenda is. Let’s not waste it.