Also in this issue of Guttmacher Policy Review:

"Beyond Preventing Unplanned Pregnancy: The Broader Benefits of Publicly Funded FamilyPlanning Services," by Adam Sonfield

"Building It Is Not Enough: Family Planning Providers Poised for Key Role in Helping People Obtain Coverage Under the Affordable Care Act," by Kinsey Hasstedt

Leading U.S. antiabortion organizations are promoting the falsehood that some common methods of contraception—in particular, emergency contraception and intrauterine devices (IUDs)—constitute abortion. However, they have done so in a deceptive manner, making the claim forcefully in some contexts, most notably when arguing that employers should not be required to cover contraceptive care, but staying silent when the claim would seem too radical, according to a new Guttmacher policy analysis.

“The influential organizations driving this anticontraception agenda have compartmentalized the debate,” says Joerg Dreweke, author of the analysis. “They portray some contraceptives as abortion when doing so is politically expedient, while striving to avoid the perception that they are engaged in a full frontal assault on birth control. For instance, they do not apply their full antiabortion agenda to these contraceptive methods, knowing it would be politically toxic if they extended waiting periods, mandatory ultrasounds and onerous clinic regulations to IUDs and Plan B.”

The analysis documents how mainstays of the U.S. antiabortion movement—including the Susan B. Anthony List, Americans United for Life, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Heritage Foundation—have routinely yet selectively referred to some contraceptives as abortion. This assertion is not supported by the science, nor by mainstream medical organizations. But, as the analysis lays out, antiabortion groups—many of which claim to have no position on contraception—have cherry-picked the science in bad faith to undermine insurance coverage for birth control.

The analysis makes clear just how radical, often bordering on the bizarre, it would be to follow through on antiabortion groups’ assertion and consistently treat some contraceptives as abortion. Women wanting to purchase emergency contraception in many states would be subject to mandatory biased counseling, would need to make multiple trips to obtain their method to comply with state-mandated waiting periods, and might even run afoul of state laws that prohibit practicing medicine without a license if they use Plan B over the counter. Likewise, if rhetoric conflating birth control with abortion were taken at face value, physicians inserting an IUD would in some states be required to do so in an ambulatory surgical center while also having hospital admitting privileges.

“Contraception is not abortion,” says Dreweke. “But when antiabortion groups assert otherwise, then the media, reproductive health and rights advocates and the public should take their position seriously. Doing so will quickly expose just how extreme they truly are. Tens of millions of American women and couples use contraceptives to prevent a pregnancy, not end it. Those who claim IUDs and emergency contraception constitute abortion are well outside the American mainstream, which is why they are cynically hiding their anti-birth control agenda by conflating contraception with abortion.”

Contraception Is Not Abortion: The Strategic Campaign of Antiabortion Groups to Persuade the Public Otherwise,” by Joerg Dreweke

For more information:

Fact sheet: Contraceptive Use in the United States
State Policies in Brief: An Overview of Abortion Laws
Analysis: Contraceptive Coverage at the U.S. Supreme Court: Countering the Rhetoric with Evidence
Analysis: The Case for Insurance Coverage of Contraceptive Services and Supplies Without Cost-Sharing