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

By CHRISTINE FERNANDO and GEOFF MULVIHILL (Associated Press)

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.