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Why is access to birth control controversial?

Doctors say there's a clear line between what qualifies as contraception and what is abortion.
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Posted at 10:19 AM, Jun 05, 2024

Reproductive rights have been a hot topic on Capitol Hill since Roe v. Wade was overturned in 2022.

On Wednesday, the Senate is expected to take a procedural vote on the Right to Contraception Act, highlighting how much the issue divides Democrats and Republicans.

The availability of birth control as we know it today dates back to Supreme Court decisions in the 1960s and '70s. The landmark cases affirmed Americans' right to privacy, including the right to access contraception.

Then in the Dobbs decision two years ago, Justice Clarence Thomas suggested overturning those precedents.

Laurie Sobel is the associate director of women's health policy at nonprofit health policy organization KFF, and she said Americans are paying close attention to the reproductive health care changes happening at the state level.

"People have become more aware there are 14 states that ban abortion. Another six that have very early gestational limits. And so people are aware that their options would be limited if their contraception failed, or they didn't have access to their contraception," Sobel said.

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The latest data from the CDC shows 65% of women ages 15-49 use some kind of contraception, ranging from condom use to surgical sterilization.

Democrats in Congress are trying to proactively protect birth control access, but Republicans have pushed back, arguing the proposed bill doesn't protect doctors' religious freedom and would allow access to abortion drugs.

Doctors say there's a clear line between what qualifies as contraception and what is abortion.

"There are sort of very deliberate sources of misinformation that are telling people that birth control and Plan B is the same as an abortion, but it's not from a medical standpoint — it's not at all," said Dr. Colleen Denny, an OB-GYN.

Birth control, such as the pill, IUD and even emergency contraception, are all aimed at stopping a pregnancy before it starts.

But the lack of clarity among lawmakers about what is contraception and what is abortion has led to confusing language in laws about reproductive rights.

Dr. Denny said: "It's hard to interpret certain terms that are in the law because they don't really have any medical meaning. You know, things like personhood, obviously is a really important concept but that doesn't [have] a clinical meaning to us at all."

Wednesday's procedural vote on the Right to Conception Act is likely to be blocked by Senate Republicans.

But Democrats are trying to move multiple reproductive health care bills through Congress, which will likely keep the issue top of mind through Election Day.