In a Post-Roe World, Could Birth Control Be Banned?
Maybe you’ve heard rumblings that, in light of Roe vs. Wade’s 2022 overturning, birth control access could be outlawed as well. It seems like an unbelievable — and completely terrifying — prospect. But is it a possible one?
At this point, birth control is still legal everywhere in the United States. With that being said, some legal experts fear that the slippery slope created when Roe was overturned could lead to new restrictions around birth control.
Part of the fear that birth control could be banned or limited stems from the fact that Roe vs. Wade’s overturning will call into question when the notion of personhood begins.
"The states that are trying to limit abortion from the moment of conception — not even from the moment of pregnancy, as the medical profession would define it — could well try to challenge Plan B, emergency contraception, potentially even IUDs," Wendy Parmet, director of the Center for Health Policy and Law at Northeastern University, tells NBC News.
Because medications like Plan B are taken after unprotected sex, some argue that these are abortion-inducing pills, explains Parmet. The distinction between a pill that prevents a pregnancy from forming and one that terminates a pregnancy is an important one, though.
To reflect this — and hopefully clear up misconceptions about Plan B — the FDA has chosen to change packaging labels for Plan B to reflect that this is not an abortion-causing medication. "Evidence does not support that the drug affects implantation or maintenance of a pregnancy after implantation, therefore it does not terminate a pregnancy," the FDA said in its statement for this news, according to The Associated Press.
While birth control has not been outlawed in any states at this point, contraceptive access is being limited in other ways — and there’s a growing fear that this access could be further limited down the line. For example, the University of Idaho announced it would no longer provide birth control services due to legal concerns. According to a report from Planned Parenthood in reaction to this news, Idaho lawmakers have stated they’d consider banning IUDs and emergency contraception in 2023.
And in Texas, teens will face a major barrier to contraceptive access. According to The Texas Tribune, a federal court ruling has led to interim state guidance to require parental consent for birth control access at 156 clinics funded under Title X of the U.S. Public Health Service Act, which has provided free and confidential contraception to Americans regardless of age. Title X has created a path to access for teens seeking birth control without permission in the state of Texas, but in December of 2022, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk ruled that the program violates parental rights, and believes parents have a right to know if their children are seeking birth control.
At this point, the clinics that have provided birth control under Title X have been advised to require parental consent for birth control medication out of an abundance of legal caution, though teens can still access other reproductive health services (like testing and treatment for STDs, pregnancy tests, and condoms) without consent from a parent.
Here’s why this matters. Access to birth control is a crucial component of reproductive health care. Contraceptive care can reduce rates of maternal mortality, and improve women’s participation in the workforce and economic independence, among many other benefits, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. ACOG also reports that 49 percent of pregnancies are unintended and that reducing this rate is a public health priority. Without unrestricted access to birth control, this rate will move in the wrong direction.
Zara Hanawalt is a freelance journalist and mom of twins. She's written for outlets like Parents, MarieClaire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Motherly, and many others. In her (admittedly limited!) free time, she enjoys cooking, reading, trying new restaurants, and traveling with her family.