The Long Campaign to Turn Birth Control Into the New Abortion
Now that the fall of Roe v. Wade has ended the constitutional right to abortion, many in the religious right have a new goal: undermining trust in, and limiting access to, hormonal contraception – including the pill.
Credit: Photo collage by Sarah Mirk for Reveal. Photo credits: SSPL, Justin Sullivan, and Drew Angerer via Getty Images
When the Supreme Court’s decision undoing Roe v. Wade came down in June, anti-abortion groups were jubilant – but far from satisfied. Many in the movement have a new target: hormonal birth control. It seems contradictory; doesn’t preventing unwanted pregnancies also prevent abortions? But anti-abortion groups don’t see it that way. They claim that hormonal contraceptives like IUDs and the pill can actually cause abortions.
One prominent group making this claim is Students for Life of America, whose president has said she wants contraceptives like IUDs and birth control pills to be illegal. The fast-growing group has built a social media campaign spreading the false idea that hormonal birth control is an abortifacient. Reveal’s Amy Mostafa teams up with UC Berkeley journalism and law students to dig into the world of young anti-abortion influencers and how medical misinformation gains traction on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, with far-reaching consequences.
Tens of millions of Americans use hormonal contraceptives to prevent pregnancy and regulate their health. And many have well-founded complaints about side effects, from nausea to depression – not to mention well-justified anger about how the medical establishment often pooh-poohs those concerns. Anti-abortion and religious activists have jumped into the fray, urging people to reject hormonal birth control as “toxic” and promoting non-hormonal “fertility awareness” methods – a movement they’re trying to rebrand as “green sex.” Mother Jones Senior Editor Kiera Butler explains how secular wellness influencers such as Jolene Brighten, who sells a $300 birth control “hormone reset,” are having their messages adopted by anti-abortion influencers, many of them with deep ties to Catholic institutions.
The end of Roe triggered a Missouri law that immediately banned almost all abortions. Many were shocked when a major health care provider in the state announced it would also no longer offer emergency contraception pills – Plan B – because of a false belief that it could cause an abortion. While the health system soon reversed its policy, it wasn’t the first time Missouri policymakers have been roiled by the myth that emergency contraception can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting and cause an abortion. Reveal senior reporter and producer Katharine Mieszkowski tracks how lawmakers in the state have been confronting this misinformation campaign and looks to the future of how conservatives are aiming to use birth control as their new wedge issue.
Reporters: Amy Mostafa, Kiera Butler and Katharine Mieszkowski | Lead producer: Katharine Mieszkowski | Producers: Amy Mostafa and Richard Yeh | Editor: Cynthia Rodriguez | Fact checker: Nikki Frick | Production manager: Amy Mostafa | Digital producer: Sarah Mirk | Original score and sound design: Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda, with help from Kathryn Styer Martínez and Claire Mullen | Interim executive producers: Brett Myers and Taki Telonidis | Host: Al Letson
This episode was a collaboration with UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Center and Investigative Reporting Program, including Leah Roemer, Emma MacPhee, Elizabeth Moss, Anabel Sosa, Zhe Wu, Gisela Pérez de Acha, Brian Nguyen, Eliza Partika and Eleonora Bianchi. Special thanks to Reveal Features Editor Nina Martin and 2021-22 Roy W. Howard investigative reporting fellow Grace Oldham.