pack of birth control pills

In Defending Birth Control, We Shouldn’t Stigmatize People Who Have Abortions

In the wake of the Trump administration’s recent decision to remove co-pay free birth control from the Affordable Care Act and the Senate’s imminent vote on a 20-week abortion ban, media coverage has highlighted data on the relationship between access to contraception and abortion rates. Articles with headlines like “Trump Contraception Move Could Lead to More Abortions” and “Donald Trump’s Coming Abortion Surge” have pointed out that increased contraception use tends to lead to a decrease in abortions. 

This narrative—that Trump’s birth control rollback may ironically lead to more abortions—is missing the mark and stigmatizing people who have had abortions by suggesting that abortion is a problem that needs to be fixed solely through contraception coverage. People have abortions for many different reasons and policy solutions rarely speak to qualitative experiences that campaigns like We Testify share. Policy often removes personal experience and creates narratives around data.

As pro-choice people defend birth control coverage, it is detrimental to our reproductive freedom movement to imply that contraception coverage is only important insofar as it reduces the need for abortion. Both birth control and abortion should be accessible, legal, and safe options for all people as basic healthcare rights.

Hindering people’s access to either further stigmatizes their sexual autonomy and personal decision-making capacity. There is a myth that increasing access to birth control increases risky behavior. Teens are often the target of this myth, yet when young people are provided comprehensive sex education and can access compassionate health care, they make informed healthy decisions.

Policy threats to contraceptive coverage and abortion need to be opposed as standalone threats.

The Trump Administration issued new rules on the Affordable Care Act to allegedly support employers’ religious freedom. Employers are no longer required to provide insurance coverage that includes birth control. The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Administration on the grounds that this rollback infringes on people’s equal protection under the law. Through this lens, the religious freedom of employers is an imposition on their employees. Over 60 million people have benefited from no co-pay birth control under the Affordable Care Act, and now this will be a financial burden on millions of people.

Meanwhile, the 20-week abortion ban would still need to pass through the Senate to become an official policy. If passed, it will be illegal for anyone to perform or have an abortion at and after 20 weeks with punitive consequences of up to five years in prison, fines, or both. Criminalizing people accessing and providing abortions perpetuates stigma against people’s personal reproductive health decisions and misuses power of an already unjust criminal justice system.

With these two policies threatening people’s sexual and reproductive autonomy, it is important that culturally we do not perpetuate the very rhetoric and judgment that upholds oppressive policies in the first place. There is a cyclical relationship between culture and policy, and as engaged activists, we can start by questioning our own socialization and understanding of reproductive freedom and move towards advocating for both contraception and abortion coverage as vital human rights.

Header image credit: Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Amanda R. Matos, proud Nuyorican from the Bronx, NY, is the co-founder of the WomanHOOD Project, a Bronx-based youth-led organization for young women of color. She is dedicated to empowering communities of color through capacity building, political education, and civic engagement. Amanda has led community organizing and policy initiatives at Planned Parenthood of New York City and Girls for Gender Equity. She is currently pursuing a master's degree in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government as a Sheila C. Johnson Fellow. On her free time, Amanda eats doughnuts and watches great TV shows like Jane the Virgin and Blackish.

Amanda R. Matos is a community organizer and reproductive justice activist from the Bronx, NY.

Read more about Amanda

Join the Conversation