The Roe v. Will Wade affect access to birth control?

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The Supreme Court’s leaked draft opinion on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health has left many of us with serious questions about the future of reproductive freedom in the United States. The opinion, if made official, would overturn Roe v. Wade and the right to abortion under the US Constitution. This reality has got people wondering: are abortions still legal right now? (Yes.) Should I store plan B? (You don’t need to buy back your pharmacy, but maybe grab a pack or two.) And will the decision affect my access to birth control? The answer is no, not directly; neither Roe nor Dobbs have anything to do with contraceptives, and no one’s access will be immediately impacted. But there may still be cause for concern.

The question lies in the reasoning behind Judge Samuel Alito’s draft opinion. The project targets the right to privacy, which is the basis of several other rights that the Court has established over the years, including same-sex and interracial marriage as well as the right to contraception.

For context, the right to privacy is not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, but rather is implied based on the Supreme Court’s interpretation of several amendments that “protect our freedom to make certain decisions about our bodies. and our privacy without government interference.” according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Notably, the Supreme Court first affirmed the right to privacy in a decision on birth control – Griswold v. Connecticut, which struck down a state law banning the sale of birth control to married couples in 1965. It has since been used in cases like Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 case that established the right to same-sex marriage.

“This decision [on Dobbs and Roe] trying to set up a lot of other cases to challenge, which would include things like access to contraception. . . and equality rights in marriage,” says Gabriela Aguilar, MD, MPH, a gynecologist in New York City and a member of Physicians for Reproductive Health. “If we challenge the right to privacy, that’s a setup to potentially challenge access to contraception in the future.”

In other words, if this decision becomes official, it could serve as a “roadmap to undo Griswold, as it challenges the right to privacy,” Georgetown law professor Neal Katyal wrote in a Washington Post editorial. “This paves the way for states to ban the use of birth control.” He goes on to demonstrate how a similar scenario could unfold for same-sex marriage.

Not everyone agrees that access to birth control is under threat here. In the draft, Alito wrote, “Nothing in this notice should be construed as casting doubt on precedents that do not relate to abortion,” making abortion a unique issue because it involves a “critical moral question.” . Therefore, some experts say issues like contraception are safe from revisiting. But others say the rationale used in the project opens dangerous doors. In response to questions about the project, President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that “it would mean that any further decisions about the notion of privacy would be in question.” Later he asked, “Does that mean in Florida they can decide they’re going to pass a law saying same-sex marriage isn’t allowed, that’s against the law in Florida?”

These are scary scenarios to think about, to say the least. Regarding birth control specifically, Dr. Aguilar says there is no need to panic at this time and stresses that the final decision on Roe and Dobbs will not directly affect the right to birth control. Don’t feel pressured into making a birth control decision — like rushing to get a long-term reversible contraceptive like an IUD or implant — just because of the potential consequences of a Roe v. Wade. “We don’t want to coerce people into using these long-acting reversible contraceptive methods out of politically-induced fear,” Dr. Aguilar told POPSUGAR. These types of birth control are effective, but “they are not the right answer for everyone,” she explains, “and contraception should always be evaluated by an individual and their health care provider on a very personal basis.

The only action regarding your personal health that Dr. Aguilar recommends taking now is to assess your reproductive needs and goals. “It would be a good time to think about important questions, whether or not you want to start a family or how quickly it will be.” Consider having a conversation with your provider (and any other partners or family members you choose to include) to discuss your priorities and options for birth control and family planning.

It bears repeating: whatever official decision the Court makes on Roe v. Wade will have no direct effect on birth control access or legality. The problem is that this draft advisory, if made official, could potentially set a precedent for future challenges to access to contraceptives – as well as marriage equality. “Although the Roe case specifically had nothing to do with contraception,” says Dr. Aguilar, “basically what these people are trying to do is suppress bodily autonomy.”

Image source: POPSUGAR Photography / Chaunté Vaughn

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