Republicans hide their war on contraception in plain sight

Democrats call out the Trump-levels of lying by forcing Republicans to once again vote against birth control rights

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published June 6, 2024 6:00AM (EDT)

Katie Britt, Joni Ernst and PlanB one-step contraceptive (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Katie Britt, Joni Ernst and PlanB one-step contraceptive (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Republicans know that their war on legal, accessible birth control is unpopular. But that's not stopping them because, as they learned from convicted felon Donald Trump, the way to hide what you're up to is simple: Lie. Lie a lot. Lie every time you open your mouth. Lie with a straight face, and have faith that the weak "fact checks" offered by the mainstream media don't matter. The Republican comfort levels with lying are sky-high in the era of Trump. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., does it with a smirk, satisfied that no one can stop him. It is somehow still staggering how much they lie about birth control and their nefarious intentions toward it. The good news is that Democrats are taking action to cut through the GOP's thick forest of falsehoods.

On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., held a vote on the Right to Contraception Act, which guarantees the right of an individual "to obtain contraceptives and to voluntarily engage in contraception." The legislation also protects the right of licensed health care providers "to provide contraceptives, contraception, and information, referrals, and services related to contraception." Despite loudly insisting they have no desire to take away birth control, all but two Republicans voted against the bill. This follows a 2022 vote on the bill in the House, in which all but 8 Republicans voted against the right to use contraception.

Republicans' excuses this week ranged from obvious lies to obfuscation tactics which ultimately amount to lies. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., called the vote "phony" because "contraception, to my knowledge, is not illegal." But of course, no one is saying it's illegal — yet. The point of Wednesday's vote was preventive, to ensure the right to birth control in the face of overt calls, including from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, to "revisit" the legality of contraception now that the right to abortion is no longer federally protected. 

Sen. Katie Britt, R-Ala., whose State of the Union response introduced the nation to what a strange and dishonest character she is, went in for an appropriately weird lie. She falsely claimed the bill would "offer contraception like condoms to little kids." It does no such thing, though I have a lot more questions for Britt about how she thinks puberty works, and if it's induced by the sight of condoms instead of the natural process of growing up. 

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Dishonest actors like Cornyn are being empowered by Trump, whose lies are even more hamfisted. Trump was recently asked by a reporter if he plans to restrict birth control and he simply said, "Some states are going to have different policy than others." Journalists know this is his way of avoiding a straight answer while letting the religious right know he supports any law they pass. Trump's campaign staff, clearly panicked that he'd let his anti-contraception stance slip, immediately took to Truth Social to claim he had "NEVER" and would "NEVER" support restrictions on birth control. This, however, is a blatant lie. During his time in the White House, Trump passed policies to cut off contraception coverage on health insurance, appointed health advisors who would like to see most methods banned completely, and ended federal funding for birth control at about 1,000 family planning clinics. 

The good news is that Democrats are taking action to cut through the GOP's thick forest of falsehoods.

Republicans use two big, interlocking lies to conceal an anti-contraception agenda from the public. First, they deny they intend to take birth control away, by limiting their definition of "birth control" to condoms and the rhythm method. To justify that shell game, they lie about how the most popular and effective forms of birth control work, claiming they are "abortion." They ping-pong between these two lies, so that the fact-checkers can never keep up. 

In a lengthy article trying to untangle the rat's nest of lies Republicans tell to confuse the public on this issue, the Washington Post offers a good example: The misnamed Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), one of the groups behind the Supreme Court's 2022 decision that ended abortion rights, claims they are "not working to ban contraception and has never done so." This is untrue, as the Post reporters point out, because ADF has "labeled birth-control methods as abortifacients in various lawsuits." The reason to do that is to create a pretext to ban birth control under existing abortion laws. The pill, the injection, the implant, IUDs, and emergency contraception are all reimagined, falsely as "abortion," which would make it illegal in many states. To justify this lie, they falsely claim that these methods work by "killing" fertilized eggs. In reality, they all work by preventing sperm from meeting egg. 

That's a lot of lies, and the scary thing is they use even more lies to distract when confronted on that already exhausting list. But readers get the idea. It's a Russian nesting doll of lies, each more confusing than the last. The point is to wear people out because arguing with liars is impossible. But the takeaway is clear-cut: All these Republican lies point in the same direction: An objection to most forms of contraception. 

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, offered a good example of how the interconnected lies work together to make it impossible for a clear fact check to break through. When asked why she won't support a bill to enshrine birth control as a right, she told CNN she objected to the bill covering Plan B emergency contraception, "which many folks on the right would consider abortive services." 

So many lies in such a short sentence! Plan B is not an abortion. As the Washington Post noted, "Emergency contraceptive pills such as Plan B and Ella work by inhibiting or delaying ovulation, thereby preventing sperm from fertilizing the egg." The second lie is her implication that if folks "consider" something to be true, that makes it the equivalent of a fact. But many people also "consider" the Earth to be flat or believe Ernst is a hobgoblin in a lady suit. Doesn't make it true! Then there's the dishonesty of focusing only on Plan B, which is a drug stigmatized because it's taken after intercourse. What Ernst fails to mention, however, is that emergency contraception and the birth control pill are the same drug, just different doses. They work identically, by suppressing ovulation. The Christian right opposition to Plan B is a stalking horse for banning all hormonal contraception. Ernst's failure to admit that is a lie by omission. 

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One can see in Ernst's statement how this spiderweb of lies serves to distract and confuse. It's hard to know where to start on the debunking! The lie about how Plan B works? The false assertion that a lie becomes fact if someone "considers" it so? The lie of omission, where she slides past the fact that a likely ban on emergency contraception would affect birth control pills? Or the ur-lie that these other lies serve to bolster, which is her claim that she isn't opposed to contraception, even though she is voting against a bill to protect contraception? 

Democrats are betting most Americans aren't interested in going down the rabbit hole of right-wing lies about contraception and how it works. Instead, the hope is that they just see headlines about how the majority of Republicans voted against birth control access, and draw the correct conclusion, which is that Republicans are attacking basic rights that most Americans thought had been settled. All the lies and digressions Republicans spew cannot conceal this basic reality: Republicans vote against birth control because they don't believe it's a right. It's as simple as that. 

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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