"Screws up female brains": MAGA leaders are conditioning Republicans to back birth control bans

Charlie Kirk says the pill causes "angry, bitter young ladies" who vote for Democrats to get "free stuff"

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published April 5, 2024 6:00AM (EDT)

Charlie Kirk (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Charlie Kirk (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Charlie Kirk, the head of the MAGA propaganda behemoth Turning Point USA, recently unveiled a novel theory as to why young women tend to vote for Democrats. Unwilling to admit that women can think for themselves, Kirk floated the theory that birth control pills cause brain damage.

"Birth control like really screws up female brains," he falsely claimed before a crowd at a recent church event streamed on the far-right site Rumble. Claiming the pill "increases depression, anxiety [and] suicidal ideation," he then blamed women's voting patterns on hormonal contraception. "It creates very angry and bitter young ladies and young women," Kirk argued. "Then that bitterness then manifests into a political party that is the bitter party. I mean, the Democrat Party is all about 'bring us your bitterness and, you know, we’ll give you free stuff.'”

As with most things MAGA leaders say, Kirk's claim is so misleading that it can only be called lying. First, of course, accusing Democrats of being "bitter" is rich coming from MAGA, whose entire pitch is bitterness. More importantly, he's lying about the pill. A tiny percentage of women have mental health issues with birth control. The most rigorous research shows it affects half a percent, or 1 in 200 women on the pill. Granted, Kirk was so bad at basic studies like math that he dropped out of community college at age 18. Still, even the biggest nimrod can grasp that half of a single percentage point is not a big number. 

But of course, Kirk is not sincerely mistaken and he certainly isn't concerned about the wellbeing of women, which all reputable research shows is dramatically improved by having control over their fertility. Kirk's doctor cosplay is part of a much larger and semi-coordinated strategy among right-wing leaders to demonize birth control and train the GOP base into believing that restricting, or even banning, contraception is justified. 

As the Washington Post reported last month, right-wing activists have been flooding social media with the same lies that Kirk was echoing in this video. It's a well-financed disinformation campaign, getting a major boost from MAGA billionaire Peter Thiel, who has aggressively financed teams of messengers to falsely claim that hormonal birth control "tricked our bodies into dysfunction and pain." Doctors report that the tidal wave of misinformation about birth control is creating a health care crisis, including women who "come in for abortions after believing what they see on social media about the dangers of hormonal birth control." 

Anti-choicers haven't given up hoping that fake science will beat reproductive rights.

Of course, the real reason MAGA leaders don't like birth control is they oppose the freedom and opportunities that it has afforded women. Kirk barely bothers to hide that this is his real agenda. In the very same talk, he also tries to threaten women who hold out for Mr. Right instead of settling for Mr. Incel: "In their early 30's they get really upset because they say the boys don't want to date me anymore because they're not at their prime," he claims, echoing the unevidenced revenge fantasy that dominates misogynist message boards. 

In reality, of course, the median age for marriage is creeping up to almost 30 for women, up from age 20 in 1960. If women become unmarriageable at 30, it wouldn't be the case that it is the age when most of them are getting married. Kirk is just pulling the tired old right-wing trick of trying to spin his desire to control women as "chivalry." It's the same line we've heard in so many ways: That freedom is bad for women, because they supposedly don't have the mental capacity to handle it, and wouldn't they just be happier under male control?

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The angry male masses may enjoy the fantasy of women regretting their choice not to just give up and settle for a Trump voter. But even anti-feminist activists know that it's a hard sell, both politically and legally. So instead of openly admitting that sadism fuels their desire to restrict birth control, it's repackaged as "protecting women" from imaginary health risks. 

It's a well-financed disinformation campaign, getting a major boost from MAGA billionaire Peter Thiel, who has aggressively financed teams of messengers to falsely claim that hormonal birth control "tricked our bodies into dysfunction and pain."

It's the exact same playbook that the right has been using for decades to argue against abortion rights. Before Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health, Republicans relentlessly passed laws making it harder to get an abortion — such as mandatory waiting periods — with false claims that these were medically necessary restrictions. In 2016, a more liberal Supreme Court shot down some of those restrictions on the grounds that the "science" used to justify them was made up nonsense. But anti-choicers haven't given up hoping that fake science will beat reproductive rights. The abortion pill challenge pending review by the Supreme Court, for example, is based on three articles that were eventually retracted. In reality, of course, medication abortions done without the drug in question are more painful and dangerous

Even some of the most anti-abortion justices, such as Amy Coney Barrett, sounded skeptical about banning a safe pill based on "alternative facts." Which is why it's no surprise that the two most loudly MAGA members of the court, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, started instead to talk up the Comstock Act, an 1873 anti-sex law that stopped being enforced decades ago but was never repealed. Talk about reviving this law has grown louder in right-wing circles, mainly because they see it as a way for Donald Trump, if he regains the White House, to unilaterally ban abortion without having to ask congressional Republicans to take an unpopular vote. 

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For the far-right, the beauty of the Comstock Act is it sidesteps all these pesky questions about health and safety. Instead, the law bans not just abortion, but pretty much anything associated with human sexuality, from contraception to nudes in art. The law forbids shipment of every "obscene, lewd, lascivious, indecent, filthy or vile article, matter, thing, device, or substance." It was used to prosecute not just abortion provision, but people who sold "obscene" books and materials, including literary works like "Ulysses" by James Joyce and art like nude paintings of the goddess Venus. All sex education, even for married couples, was outlawed. It also banned not just birth control, but simply sharing information on how to prevent pregnancy, which means it would cover even those "wellness" sites that make misleading claims that period-tracking is effective contraception. 

Anthony Comstock, the infamous prude who was behind the law, was much like Charlie Kirk, in that his misogynist intent was never far beneath the surface. He frequently bragged about how many women he'd driven to suicide by relentlessly prosecuting them for helping other women get reproductive health care or explaining the mechanics of sex to newlyweds. Within the first five years of the bill, he gloated, he had forced 15 women to take their lives. He tried, but failed, to do this to Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, repeatedly targeting her for arrest for teaching women how to prevent pregnancy. (Sanger did not, despite anti-choice propaganda claiming otherwise, offer abortion.) 

But conservatives know it's not popular to loudly champion a law written by a man who once claimed, "Books are feeders for brothels." So instead, we're getting this tsunami of hand-wringing about the imaginary damage that birth control is doing to women, who are forever presumed by conservatives to be too dim to be trusted with their own decisions. The malevolence is never that hard to see, however. "Concern" that women who have sex will end up lonely cat ladies is less a reflection of sincere trepidation and more a bit of wish-casting. Conservatives long for women to be so punished, even as their anger reflects a deeper understanding that women are actually doing pretty well with this freedom and equality thing. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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Birth Control Charlie Kirk Commentary Comstock Act Contraceptives Gop Maga Reproductive Freedom Republicans