Opinion: Call it ‘Make America Chaste Again.’ And it’s a losing message for the GOP in 2024

Editor’s Note: Karen Finney is a CNN political commentator. She was senior spokesperson and senior advisor to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. Read more opinion at CNN.

Like millions of Americans, I’ve used contraception. Using birth control was as much about preventing pregnancy and the decisions I make about what’s right for my health and well-being as exercising my basic right to control my body and my future.

Karen Finney - Ralph Alswange
Karen Finney - Ralph Alswange

And like millions of female athletes, as a college rower at UCLA, I also used birth control to help regulate my periods during our competitive season when I needed to be at my peak.

It’s a right that my mother fought for and one I honestly took for granted for most of my life. But this basic right that I and millions of Americans have had for almost 60 years is seriously at risk, threatened by the same extreme agenda enacted by former president Donald Trump, MAGA Republicans and their right-wing allies who led to the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade two years ago.

In addition to the torrent of extreme new measures imposing all-out bans on abortion in some states and onerous new restrictions in others following the decision, many of the former president’s same right-wing allies have scaled up their decades-old effort to attack access to contraception.

Probably recognizing that “Make America Chaste Again” is not a winning 2024 message in a country where nine in 10 adults view contraception favorably, it is not surprising that — as with his position on abortion — Trump continues to try and have it both ways on reproductive freedom, obfuscating his record on birth control as well as the threat posed by the Republican Party.

In a recent television interview, Trump said he was considering restricting access to birth control and leaving the decision to the states. A short time later, the gaslighting started.

Taking to social media, Trump falsely claimed that neither he nor the Republican Party supported imposing restrictions on or banning birth control. Both statements are demonstrably false.

Both as a candidate in 2016 and again now in 2024, Trump has supported dismantling the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which would impact millions of women who have access to birth control with no out-of-pocket costs through the ACA. While he was unsuccessful in overturning the ACA, Trump did weaken the ACA’s contraception mandate by issuing rules that allowed employers to refuse to cover contraception in their health care plans.

The Trump Administration also cut hundreds of millions of dollars in funding from teen pregnancy prevention programs. He cut Title X funds used for reproductive health services and to increase access to birth control for low-income Americans, as well as international clinics that provide contraception and STD testing. And as he likes to brag, he appointed the conservative judges to the US Supreme Court who were instrumental in overturning Roe v. Wade — another blow to Americans’ reproductive freedoms.

While President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have been able to reverse most of Trump’s actions and expanded access to contraception, a second Trump term — particularly if Republicans control Congress — could result in additional restrictions, some even based on the 1873 “Pro Chastity” era Comstock Act.

The Comstock Act made it a federal crime to mail anything “obscene, lewd, lascivious, indecent, filthy or vile,” anything designed for “immoral use” — a concept extended to contraception by the GOP. Policy proposals taking aim at birth control are part of the Heritage Foundation-led Project 2025, viewed by many in the Republican Party as a blueprint for Trump’s second term.

While Trump’s campaign team has tried to downplay any connection to the project, former Trump Administration officials are integral to the effort, including former senior adviser Stephen Miller and former Trump Health and Human Services Department official Roger Severino, two architects of Project 2025. The plans call for again attacking birth control through executive action, including threatening access to IUDs and emergency contraception.

Severino, who is credited with drafting the health care section of the document, has also downplayed efforts to restrict access to contraception in the wake of Trump’s comments saying, “The notion that there’s a formal organized movement to ban contraception across America is downright silly.”

Yet, many right-wing groups who are both allies of former president Trump and are involved in Project 2025 have been actively working to restrict and, in some cases, ban access to some forms of birth control.

The anti-abortion group, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, is one such organization. In the 2020 election, the group launched a $52 million effort to support then-President Donald Trump’s re-election. It also spent millions supporting Republican candidates. These allied anti-abortion groups have made it clear that they expect the president to restore anti-choice policies that were overturned by Biden when he took office and expand on them in a second term.

In contradiction to Trump’s claims, Servino and others, over the last two years in more than 20 states the anti-birth control effort has worked to spread dangerous disinformation and to block measures that would codify the right to contraception and access to contraceptives, including IUDs, emergency contraception, hormonal birth control, the morning after pill and other forms of contraception.

In Arizona, GOP Senate Majority Leader Sonny Borrelli absurdly suggested that women could simply hold “an aspirin between their knees” as birth control. Indiana has seen misinformation campaigns that falsely label IUDs as “abortifacient,” or capable of inducing abortion. In Iowa, legislation falsely conflated birth control with abortion to block the approval of over-the-counter birth control pills.

In Wisconsin, a legislator argued that contraception leads to “infidelity,” a “proliferation of STDs” and is “unnatural.” And just days before Trump’s comments, Virginia’s Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin vetoed a state version of the Right to Contraception Act, which would have protected Virginians’ right and access to contraception, including condoms, birth control, IUDs, and emergency contraception.

Democrats along with reproductive rights groups have successfully fought many of these state efforts, proactively introducing versions of the Right to Contraception Act in 12 states across the country, including Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin.

While Congressional Republicans have been trying to soften their “anti-woman” image, earlier this month Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called their bluff by bringing the Right to Contraception to the floor for a vote.

The measure would have codified the right to access the full range of contraceptives without government interference. Earning the support of only two Republicans, the bill failed but forced the Republicans who voted against it to demonstrate where they stand on comprehensive access to contraception. Yet Republicans know that the stakes are high. Even former Trump Advisor Kellyanne Conway has warned congressional Republicans about the potency of contraception as a galvanizing issue for the 2024 electorate.

Democrats must continue to effectively connect reproductive rights — including abortion, contraception and in the wake of a state court decision in Alabama, IVF — to their broader message protecting basic rights and freedoms so fundamental to our democracy.

Given the broad support for birth control across the political spectrum this issue, and efforts to codify the right to abortion and protect IVF, are expected to help drive turnout in support of reproductive freedom and Democrats in the 2024 presidential and down-ballot elections.

Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, voters have overwhelmingly used their voices at the ballot box to send a clear message that reproductive freedom is an American value. Trump and the GOP’s true agenda is clear: they cannot be trusted to stand with the majority of Americans who support access to contraception.

Between now and November, we must continue to force politicians to articulate their comprehensive positions on reproductive rights, including access to abortion, IVF, and contraception. The outcome of the fall election will literally determine the future of reproductive rights and bodily autonomy for future generations to come. Will we be the ones who lose these fundamental freedoms we’ve had for decades?

We cannot allow our country to go backward.

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