Democrats go on offense as the GOP opens the door to birth control restrictions

Written by on May 23, 2024

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(WASHINGTON) — Former President Donald Trump opened the door to restricting access to contraceptives earlier this week, less than a week after Virginia’s Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin vetoed two bills that would have established the right to contraception in the state.

Now, Democrats are sounding the alarm over the fact that access to birth control methods are in question across the GOP ideological spectrum — arguing that with Trump at its helm, the Republican Party is only further siphoning reproductive rights in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade in June 2002.

Trump and many states’ leaders are scrambling to weigh in on access to contraception and abortion — key issues in an election year.

Trump said on Tuesday that he was open to supporting contraceptive regulations during an interview with KDKA-TV, a CBS affiliate in Pittsburgh.

The former president later in the day insisted that he has “never, and will never advocate imposing restrictions on birth control, or other contraceptives,” but not before President Joe Biden’s campaign seized on his initial remarks, saying they reflected a larger “post-Roe nightmare” that includes not only the restriction of abortion but also in-vitro fertilization and contraception. Youngkin — a more moderate conservative who endorsed Trump for president in March despite past criticism of the former president — on Friday vetoed two pieces of legislation that would have protected Virginians’ access to contraception such as condoms and IUDs in the event federal law protecting it were overturned.

Youngkin wrote in a statement after his actions last week that while he said he “supports contraception access,” the two bills would too broadly address the issue without input from parents, healthcare providers or municipalities. He needed to “uphold the fundamental right of parents to make decisions concerning their children’s upbringing and care,” he said.

Illinois’ Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker and founder of Think Big America, a PAC focused on abortion access, weighed in on Youngkin’s veto.

“Glenn Youngkin’s veto is shameful but predictable — just like a former president who brags about ripping away abortion rights, a governor who promotes an abortion ban was never going to stop there,” Pritzker said in a statement to ABC News.

Think Big America donated $250,000 to Virginia Democrats a week before high-stakes state legislative elections in November 2023 — races that helped determine impending abortion policy in Virginia. Democrats ultimately won full control of the state’s General Assembly and were therefore able to block Youngkin’s proposed 15-week “limit” on abortion access.

“MAGA extremists like Youngkin and Donald Trump have made it clear — they’re coming after abortion, they’re coming after contraception, they’re coming after IVF, and they’re coming after women,” Pritzker told ABC News.

Youngkin’s press secretary Christian Martinez said in a statement to ABC News that Virginia’s governor supports access to contraception and IVF “without trampling on constitutional rights and religious liberties.”

“The Youngkin administration’s historic efforts are supporting maternal health so Virginians can realize their dream of building a family,” Martinez said. “Governor Pritzker should pay attention to his own state instead of using scaremongering tactics to distract from the number of people moving away from Illinois, placing them among other states run by progressive liberals like New York and California.”

In Virginia, advocates of the contraception protections said the bills were introduced in the aftermath of Dobbs, when Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas signaled that other settled cases regarding reproductive rights could be reassessed — including Griswold v. Connecticut, a ruling on birth control access.

Democrats have claimed Youngkin’s actions are a link to Trump’s policy and the greater GOP agenda of rescinding reproductive rights for women.

“Veto of legislation to protect Virginians’ right to contraception offers further evidence that Youngkin is still operating from Donald Trump’s losing playbook as he doubles down on Trump’s deeply unpopular, anti-freedom agenda. Trump, Glenn Youngkin, and MAGA extremists across the country seem as hellbent on ripping away women’s reproductive rights as they are on losing elections,” Democratic National Committee spokesperson Jackie Bush said after the governor’s actions.

Fourteen states currently have legal or constitutional protections for the right to contraception, according to a paper by KFF, a nonprofit health policy organization. Those states are: California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington and Washington, D.C.

California, Michigan, Ohio and Vermont have enacted constitutional rights to contraceptives, which is a more secure form of protection, while the rest of the states have safeguarded birth control through statutory methods.

About half of those states enacted these protections since the fall of Roe, according to a KFF. Those states are California, Michigan, Vermont, D.C., Minnesota, New Mexico and Ohio. Only Florida and Ohio are states among the group that are under Republican leadership.

Mabel Felix, a policy analyst with KFF, and Alina Salganicoff, the senior vice president and director for Women’s Health Policy at KFF, authored the paper on state and federal actions surrounding contraception.

They said Virginia was the only state they tracked that had vetoed any birth control protections in the aftermath of Dobbs.

Abortion or reproductive rights-related ballot initiatives are confirmed on the general election ballots in four states (Maryland, Florida, South Dakota, Colorado), and overall could be on the November 2024 ballot in at least 12 states (including those four), according to ABC News analysis.

Nevada and Maryland are states where language surrounding contraceptive protections are included in the measures, according to Felix and Salganicoff.

“Before Dobbs, I think that most people thought that their right to contraception was guaranteed and protected,” said Salganicoff in an interview with ABC News. “[Justice Thomas] raised a lot of red flags for people. That pushed some advocates and legislators to really start to do more work on the ground, to protect the right to contraception.”

Salganicoff said Trump’s comments on contraceptive access earlier this week “has even [more] greatly given this issue even more attention.”

Separately, some states are taking additional means to make birth control access easier, including giving pharmacists the right to prescribe, not just dispense, hormonal contraception.

As recently as Monday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, announced the implementation of legislation that authorizes pharmacists to sell hormonal contraceptive birth control without a prescription.

“In New Jersey, we will continue to protect a woman’s right to plan her future on her own terms,” said Murphy in a statement.

“[This] marks an important step forward in our efforts to expand access to reproductive health care as we make birth control more accessible across the state. As we witness an attack on reproductive freedom across the country, New Jersey will continue to be a safe haven for women to access the care they need.”

ABC News’ Oren Oppenheim contributed to this report.

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