In 1970, President Richard Nixon signed the Title X grant program into law. Its goal was to make sure women -- regardless of how much money they had -- could get the kind of birth control they needed.
Fifty years later, President Donald Trump is returning America to the reproductive health days of old, making it harder and harder, bit by bit, for women to get access.
Last October, the Trump administration bolstered the rights of employers to deny women insurance coverage for contraception, calling it a religious freedom issue. The idea was that no one with strong religious objections to birth control should have to provide it to their employees. The move was part of an attempt to erode the Affordable Care Act – aka Obamacare -- which allowed millions of women to get birth control without copayments.
In February, the Trump administration took a good look at Nixon’s program, declaring it needed more emphasis on “natural family planning,” encouraging women to follow their menstrual cycles as if they're maps of the stars and using them to determine when and if you should have sex.
The new guidelines require health care providers that receive federal funding to offer counseling on natural family planning. They also promote sex ed programs that “do not normalize” safe sex as an alternative to abstinence.
Planned Parenthood and the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association both filed lawsuits against the administration, saying pushing abstinence and the rhythm method doesn’t count as making sure all women can afford the birth control they want.
But the administration doubled down. In May, a new rule barred clinics and programs funded by Title X from providing abortions, or referring patients to clinics that do. The rule sought to “physically separate” abortion providers from federal dollars. Planned Parenthood was among the hardest hit, but the consequences are much more far-reaching. The administration also made plans to withhold funding for organizations that provide abortion all over the world.
“I think it’s very clear they’re looking for every opportunity to restrict access to birth control,” says Megan Peterson. She runs a Minnesota nonprofit called Gender Justice, which campaigns for reproductive rights.
Peterson is sharing the stories of women, trans people and gender nonconforming people who depend on the Affordable Care Act and Title X. Her goal is to make sure people know the score.
“Most women take for granted that they can get birth control if they need it,” she says. She doesn’t doubt there will be more “focused, creative, and bold” attempts to take away reproductive rights in the future. She wants people to know enough to make informed political decisions.
For the past 50 or 60 years, birth control has been a key asset in allowing women to control their own lives -- to choose to go to school, have a career, or even just wait to get pregnant until they’re truly ready for it, she says.
Those who have a problem with birth control, she says, have a problem with women as “fully-functioning members of society.”
On Gender Justice’s website, stories from women speak to the importance of access. One comes from a student who couldn’t finish law school without birth control, which helped her manage the incapacitating pain from their endometriosis.
Another comes from a medical school student who needed an affordable IUD so she could focus on becoming a doctor without worrying about pregnancy.
Still another comes from a person who paid nearly $300 out of pocket for three months of birth control before the arrival of the Affordable Care Act.
A few bills were passed around the Minnesota Legislature last session to protect access to contraception, essentially placing Obama-era requirements -- that employers cover contraception of all kinds without copay -- into state law.
It didn’t make it through this time. The Legislature adjourned without having a single hearing. Whether it comes back next time depends on who’s paying attention.