Gen Z votes are critical when it comes to the outcome of reproduction-related bills. A 2022 survey by Her Campus, with 1,115 Gen Z respondents who were 95% female, found an almost 15% increase in a pro-abortion rights stance among this group since 2017. Additionally, 93% of respondents said birth control should be covered by health insurance.
Over the past month, I did political research for Lift Louisiana, a reproductive justice organization. To better inform voters, I investigated candidates running for Louisiana Senate and House of Representatives to find out what they think about reproductive rights. I discovered that there are candidates for the Louisiana state legislature who oppose prescription-free Plan B pills. This is in a state that has one of the strictest abortion bans in the country.
In stark contrast to young voters’ high level of support for accessible birth control, there is a growing trend of state legislators restricting access to contraception since Roe v. Wade was overturned in June 2022. Idaho’s 2021 No Public Funds for Abortion Act prevents government-funded student health centers from providing Plan B pills. In Florida, governor Ron DeSantis struck down a state-funded program to provide birth control like the pill and IUDs to low-income people in 2022. This trend is incredibly concerning, especially for states that completely ban abortion.
However, citizens are pushing back. On Nov. 7, 2023, Ohio voters will get the chance to protect their birth control rights once and for all. This is why I think it’s important to do your research and vote in upcoming elections.
Reproductive rights are on Ohio’s ballot in 2023.
There is less hype around off-year state elections than presidential elections, but pay attention to votes on big issues that have a direct impact on you. In light of continued threats to reproductive rights, voters in California, Michigan, and Vermont enshrined the right to contraception in their state constitutions in 2022. Citizens of these states now have protected access to birth control, regardless of whether federal laws regarding contraception change. A similar vote to protect the right to contraception in the Ohio state constitution will take place on Nov. 7, 2023, with Ohio Issue 1 on the ballot.
Ohio is proposing The Right to Make Reproductive Decisions Including Abortion Initiative, which would protect Ohioans individual rights to contraception, abortion, and reproductive health care. After the proposal got hundreds of thousands of signatures from citizens, the question of reproductive rights is being put to the people.
Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights says the initiative is meant to keep reproductive health decisions in the hands of doctors and their patients. This initiative is a referendum, which means a majority vote by the citizens of Ohio will decide the outcome, rather than votes by lawmakers. Abortion is currently legal until 21 weeks in Ohio, but there’s an ongoing lawsuit that would ban abortion after six weeks. Importantly, the bill would also block state interference in personal decisions about contraception, fertility treatment, and miscarriage care.
States like Ohio are trying to protect birth control because the national right to birth control, which has existed since 1965, stands on thin ice after the reversal of Roe v. Wade. The 2022 federal Right to Contraception Act, which would have strengthened Americans’ rights to a full range of birth control options, was blocked largely by Republican senators who oppose the right to contraception. The act was reintroduced in June 2023, but until it is upheld, states continue to have leeway in advancing legislation to restrict contraception.
Why protecting the right to birth control is important
There are several reasons why it’s important to vote yes to referendums like this Ohio initiative and support candidates who will protect the right to contraception. These include prevention of abortion, and working towards a future where birth control is affordable for all.
Access to a full range of birth control options prevents abortion.
A 2006 to 2010 survey by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows the majority of women between ages 15 and 44 have had sexual intercourse. The survey also states, “Among women aged 15 and over who have had sexual intercourse at least once, virtually all have ever used contraception (99.1%).” 88% of these women had used methods such as birth control pills, injectables, or IUDs. Similarly high percentages of sexually active Christian women had used contraception. Between 2017 to 2019, a CDC study found that 65.3% of American women between 15 and 49 were using contraception.
Some legislators, like Montana Senator Matt Rosendale, are against birth control rights and make the argument that contraception is a form of abortion rather than health care. But contraception is not a form of abortion: In 2022, the FDA clarified that the Plan B pill prevents ovulation, similar to the birth control pill, and does not operate like abortion.
Instead, more use of birth control prevents unintended pregnancy, a major contributor to abortion rates. According to The Guttmacher Institute, states with more federally funded abstinence-only sex education programs have higher rates of teen pregnancy. Contraceptives are widely viewed as preventative healthcare. They prevent unsafe abortion, health risks from pregnancy, and promote healthy birth spacing.
Protecting individual rights to birth control helps reduce abortion, something everyone should want. On an individual level, decisions about birth control are highly personal. But state and federal policy concerning contraception should endeavor to follow what is effective and safe for society at large, rather than reflect people’s personal ideology.
Expanding access to contraception shields low-income people.
Low-income people are the most burdened by regressive birth control policy and lack of affordable contraception. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists points out that low-income women not only have disproportionately high birth rates, but also face the most economic struggle due to pregnancy. Although the Affordable Care Act and Title X offer some federal birth control protection for low-income people, many still face difficulties with cost-sharing and accessing their preferred contraceptive method.
The Ohio initiative does not address insurance coverage of birth control, but it does specify that the State cannot “burden” or “penalize” people exercising their right to contraception. In the face of regressive federal legislation, the Ohio bill is still important to setting a precedent for equal access to contraception.
Private insurance companies are currently required to cover contraception by the Affordable Care Act. However, the Trump administration passed exceptions in 2017 and 2018 that allow employers with religious objections to eliminate contraception coverage in private insurance plans for their employees.
Some conservatives make the argument that contraception should remain a choice for individuals, but don’t believe it should be required in health insurance plans. Maintaining that “choice” for birth control should be allowed, while denying the need for insurance coverage, ignores the fact that true choice exists only for the people who can afford care. Birth control pills can cost up to $50 a month without insurance, which is a lot for people who struggle to cover basic living expenses. The out-of-pocket strategy would place a disproportionate burden on people with uteruses to cover the costs of birth prevention.
Overall, nothing is guaranteed as states continue to change policies that impact how and when people can access contraception. This is a time ripe with controversy over intimate topics, like who gets to dictate family planning. The fate of these questions depends in part on Gen Z showing up at the polls. It depends on telling your Congress members to support the Right to Contraception Act by calling and emailing them. It depends on volunteering with local or national reproductive health centers, spreading the word, and staying an informed citizen.