Policy Studies Competition Policy

The Conservative Case for Greater Birth Control Access

Key Points

In the United States, birth control is viewed favorably and widely used. In regular polls, over 90 percent of Americans find taking birth control to be morally acceptable. In addition, over 60 percent of women in the United States currently use some form of contraception, and some estimates indicate that 82 percent of women have used birth control at some point in their lives.
While birth control access is usually thought of as a left-of-center issue, Republican politicians are responsible for some of the family planning programs we have today.
Increased birth control access aligns with many limited government principles: it removes governmental barriers, decreases regulations and promotes individual autonomy. Because of this, broader birth control access should become a larger part of the conservative platform.

When “the pill” was officially approved for contraceptive use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1960, it was far from clear how it would be received by the American public. The new product was lauded by women’s rights advocates, yet condemned by social conservatives who thought it helped to usher in the growing promiscuity of the sexual revolution. Sixty years later, however, birth control has become ingrained in American life; now, the overwhelming majority of Americans think birth control is morally acceptable, and the pill is the most popular form of contraception for birth control users.

Yet, even with broad public support for birth control itself, reproductive rights battles on both the state and federal levels have raged on. The Trump administration’s ban on Title X funding for groups giving referrals to abortion providers, as well as the recent expansion of birth control coverage opt-outs, have outraged the left. While on the state level, an increasing number of states are requiring insurance coverage for 12-month supplies of birth control. Even amidst these fights, however, both liberal and conservative policymakers have publicly offered support for expanding birth control access. While the push for greater birth control access is traditionally associated with the political left— given the longtime progressive focus on women’s rights and reproductive health—there is an equally strong conservative and libertarian case for expanding birth control availability. Unfortunately, many proponents of limited and effective government have failed to recognize this.

At the most basic level, clearing away unnecessary regulatory clutter has long been a priority for advocates of limited government, but increasing birth control access also aligns with classical liberal values such as individual autonomy, commercial freedom and personal decision-making. Expanding birth control access also adheres with broader health policy goals shared by many on the ideological right, which makes it a natural fit for conservatives. President George H.W. Bush understood this well; in 1968, then as a U.S. Representative, Bush publicly supported access to family planning and specifically cited its ability to reduce unplanned pregnancy and, subsequently, public spending on social welfare programs.

More signs are emerging that modern Republican politicians are also increasingly embracing the issue. In 2019, prominent progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, (D-N.Y.), engaged in a much-publicized social media exchange with conservative Sen. Ted Cruz, (R-Texas), in which both expressed support for a bill that would require the FDA to make birth control available over-the-counter (OTC). Additionally, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) have sponsored a bill that would fast track the process of making birth control available OTC in recent congressional sessions.

Some of this movement can likely be attributed to the tremendous popularity of birth control generally. In Gallup’s 2019 Values and Beliefs poll, which surveys Americans on various moral issues, 92 percent of respondents found birth control to be morally acceptable. In fact, the use of birth control enjoyed far more support among Americans than any other personal behavior included in the survey, including drinking alcohol, getting a divorce or wearing animal fur. Not only was birth control the only category that scored above 90 percent support, but it has maintained its number one spot every year since it was included as a category (dating back to 2012).

Birth control is not just viewed favorably, either; it is also widely used. Over 60 percent of women are presently using at least some form of contraception, while estimates suggest that 82 percent of sexually active women have used the pill at some point in their lifetimes. Additionally, married women greatly outnumber unmarried and never-married women when it comes to contraceptive use.

Press release: How Broader Birth Control Access Aligns with Conservative Values and Policy Agendas

Image credit: Barbara J. Johnson

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