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What would overturning Roe mean for birth control?

Copper IUDs are a highly effective method of contraception. Some abortion rights opponents express moral objections to IUDs and other birth control methods.
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Copper IUDs are a highly effective method of contraception. Some abortion rights opponents express moral objections to IUDs and other birth control methods.

Overturning Roe v. Wade could have implications for more than access to abortion; medical and legal experts say it could open the door to restrictions on other types of reproductive health care.

"To say that we are incredibly concerned would, I think, actually be putting it mildly," said Dr. Kavita Arora, chair of the ethics committee at the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists.

Arora said the decision could have far-reaching implications for other types of care including birth control, emergency contraception known as Plan B, trans-affirming healthcare, and fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization, which can produce leftover embryos.

"This threatens our ability to take care of patients on a daily basis," Arora said.

Most types of contraception prevent a sperm from fertilizing an egg. But as a second line of defense, she said some can stop an already-fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus – considered the beginning of a pregnancy.

"In changing definition of when pregnancy starts to just at fertilization, it would compromise our ability to provide access to really highly effective methods of contraception such as the copper IUD," Arora said.

Some abortion rights opponents regard such devices as quote "life-ending" because of the possibility that implantation can be disrupted.

Kristan Hawkins is president of the anti-abortion rights groups Students for Life of America, which is pushing for state and federal legislation to recognize human life as beginning "at conception." Her group takes the position that some devices and pills that can prevent implantation of a fertilized egg are "mislabeled" as contraception — a position at odds with the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, which defines pregnancy as beginning at implantation.

"I think legislators should be able to have the right to decide and to investigate if there are devices, if there's chemicals that are ending the lives of their citizens in their state," Hawkins said.

In an interview last week, Hawkins denied that birth control is a focus of her movement – and called that notion a "scare tactic."

Some Republican leaders, including a state lawmaker in Idaho, have expressed an openness to entertaining questions about the safety of contraceptives, which are tested by federal regulators before they are put on the market.

Last week, a Louisiana state lawmaker proposed a bill that would classify abortion as a homicide – beginning at the moment of fertilization.

On CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday, when host Jake Tapper asked Mississippi's Republican Gov. Tate Reeves about the bill in his neighboring state, Reeves declined to rule out support for similar legislation, saying only, "That is not what we are focused on at this time."

Under Roe, the right to an abortion is guaranteed under the right to privacy. That's also part of the rationale for the Griswold v. Connecticut decision in 1965, which recognized a right to contraception for married people – and eventually, everyone else.

In his draft opinion in the major abortion case Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization which was leaked to Politico last week, Justice Samuel Alito argued that abortion is different from other rights, like contraception and marriage, because he said it destroys fetal life.

But Khiara M. Bridges, a law professor at the University of California-Berkeley, said Alito's originalist view of the Constitution offers no guarantees that women's rights will be protected.

"Because women were not part of the body politic, the rights that are important to people who can get pregnant are just not contemplated by the Constitution," Bridges said. "The drafters of the Constitution could care less about what women's concerns were, what they needed in order to be fully human in society."

If the court is willing to do away with longstanding precedent like Roe, Bridges said, it's impossible to predict what other rights also could be in question.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.