Columnist Carrie N. Baker: Protecting access to contraception: A winning issue for Democrats in November 2024

Carrie N. Baker

Carrie N. Baker


Published: 03-27-2024 3:04 PM

In the wake of growing Republican restrictions on reproductive rights, Democrats in many states are introducing bills to protect access to contraception. In response, Republicans are blocking these bills, going on record as opposed to contraception. This issue presents an opportunity for Democrats to attract swing voters in the November 2024 elections because the vast majority of Americans strongly support contraception access and are motivated to vote by the issue.

When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion in June 2022, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a concurring opinion calling for the elimination of the constitutional right to contraception established in the 1965 Supreme Court decision of Griswold v. Connecticut.

A month after the decision, Democrats in Congress introduced The Right to Contraception Act, which would guarantee access to contraception nationwide. The bill did not pass because 195 House Republicans voted against the measure.

Republican lawmakers’ views on contraception do not align with the views of a vast majority of Americans. A new nationwide poll shows that voters across the demographic and political spectrum believe that contraception is at risk, and that protecting access to contraception is deeply important to them.

According to the poll by IMPACT Research, eight in 10 voters support The Right to Contraception Act. By a 68-point margin, voters have a favorable view of the bill (81% favorable/13% unfavorable), with three-fifths strongly in favor of it (61%). This support includes 78% of men and 84% of women. The bill also has the support of people of all ages and races, and across political parties. While 94% of Democrats support the bill, so do 76% of Independents and 68% of Republicans. More than three-fourths of voters have used a form of contraception and 88% say it’s important to them that all Americans have the right to make their own decision about when to use contraception and what method they use, without government interference.

The IMPACT Research poll also found that contraception is a motivating issue for many voters. When hearing that 195 House Republicans voted against The Right to Contraception Act, a majority of voters said they would be much less likely to support Republicans in Congress (64% less likely; 50% much less likely). Voters say they’d be more likely to vote for their member of Congress if they support The Right to Contraception Act (53% more likely) and less likely to vote for them if they oppose it (58% less likely, with 46% much less likely).

Voters worry about their future access to contraception. By a 28-point margin, voters say they’re concerned that the Supreme Court will overturn the constitutional right to contraception (61% concerned / 33% not concerned). Furthermore, the majority of voters believe access to contraception is at risk in their state (53% concerned), and see the threat as even greater when thinking about other states (67% concerned).

Voters’ concerns are warranted. Republican legislatures in nine states have already adopted restrictions on emergency contraception, including one state excluding emergency contraception from the services to be covered in the state’s family planning program and two states excluding emergency contraception from their contraceptive coverage mandate. Seven states explicitly allow pharmacists to refuse to dispense contraceptives. Pennsylvania allows hospitals to refuse to provide emergency contraception to rape survivors.

By contrast, Democratic lawmakers have won protections for contraception in 13 states, and are now introducing similar legislation in 11 conservative states, including Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. Republican lawmakers have already blocked these measures in Tennessee and Arizona.

At the federal level, Republicans are promising to restrict access to contraception nationwide.

A broad coalition of conservative organizations called Project 2025, led by The Heritage Foundation, has published a detailed agenda for the next Republican president, revealing their plans to reduce access to contraception and promote notoriously unreliable “fertility awareness-based methods and supplies” instead.

Republicans have fought increased access to contraception in the courts as well. After the Obama administration instituted a contraceptive mandate under the Affordable Care Act in 2012, conservative groups filed a lawsuit seeking an exemption for employers from having to comply with the law. In the 2014 ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, the Supreme Court allowed privately held companies to refuse to cover contraception in their employee health insurance plans.

In 2017, the Trump administration created even broader “moral and religious” exemptions to the contraception mandate for any type of employer. In 2020, the Supreme Court upheld these exemptions in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania. In February 2023, the Biden administration proposed new rules to remove these exemptions, which Republicans have opposed.

Protecting access to contraception is a tremendous opportunity for Democrats. Introducing The Right to Contraception Act in conservative states, and forcing Republican lawmakers to go on record with their opposition to contraception, is a winning strategy for Democrats in the November 2024 elections.

Carrie N. Baker is a professor in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College and a regular contributor to Ms. Magazine.