Since Roe v. Wade was overturned, Republicans have made it very clear that rights to birth control are on the chopping block next. In July, nearly 200 House Republicans voted against a bill to codify the right to contraception. In September, Gov. Brian Kemp—who’s been caught on hot mic weighing laws to police IVF and Plan B—also said he’s open to banning birth control. This week, a leaked, recorded conversation showed top anti-abortion activists advising Tennessee legislators to stake out the right time before going after birth control.
But beyond the rising legislative threat to birth control, there’s a growing trend of “trad-wife” wellness influencers on platforms like TikTok pushing dangerous disinformation about birth control. Reproductive rights advocates are concerned this disinformation—including claims that birth control can cause infertility and other long-term health detriments—will inevitably lend to a ban on birth control out of “safety concerns,” as we’ve seen for years with abortion. (To be clear, some birth control methods may have side effects for certain people, but birth control is a safe, effective, and an indispensable resource that allows people to plan their personal and economic futures.)
In general, TikTok has become overrun with “trad-wife” influencers claiming feminism ruined everything by making women work; I, myself, am proudly and unabashedly anti-work, but being forced to economically rely on men to not die isn’t exactly liberating. Nonetheless, trad-wife influencers have come to operate within a niche of anti-capitalist discontent among women, and they’re now also breaking into the highly lucrative holistic wellness space, too.
It’s these women influencers—not doctors and actual experts—who have more recently been pushing video after video promoting unreliable methods of “natural birth control” and getting millions of views, Fortune reported in September. Videos with the search term “rhythm method” combine for nearly a billion views. Fertility awareness methods, or FAM, have increasingly become a trendy TikTok challenge akin to bleaching your eyebrows, premised on the supposed danger of birth control.
National Review author and anti-abortion activist comes out swinging against the birth control pill, decrying it as "actively harmful." Post-Roe, the next battle in the war for reproductive rights is emerging very quickly. pic.twitter.com/XBpeHfpQBv
— Mark Joseph Stern (@mjs_DC) November 17, 2022
Conservative attacks on birth control aren’t new, and nor are stories of some women’s valid, negative experience with different forms of birth control that might not have worked for them. But Olivia Little, a senior researcher at Media Matters, told Jezebel, “There was sort of an uptick in this on TikTok at the same time that Roe was overturned,” not unlike the well-documented rise in attacks from Republican politicians. “It’s a very malicious strategy for this to come from women, who operate on the assumption they’ll be trusted for this because of their lived experiences, like they’re talking to you woman-to-woman,” Little said. Unlike Republican lawmakers, their attacks on birth control are presented as apolitical, meaning the disinformation they perpetuate can reach and convince even progressive supporters of reproductive rights.
Historically, this—weaponizing front-facing, female mouthpieces to execute an anti-reproductive health agenda—has been a feature of the anti-abortion movement, Mara Gandal-Powers, senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center, told Jezebel. “It’s like how they talk about abortion ‘regret’ or banning abortion because it’s ‘dangerous,’” she said. (This, she points out, is despite how few regret their abortions and abortion is highly safe.) Referencing the recorded conversation between anti-abortion activists and Tennessee lawmakers unearthed this week, Gandal-Powers says it stood out to her that the activists advised lawmakers to “wait” to go after birth control and, when they do so, to “hide behind the skirts of women, trying to put anti-birth control women out in front, so it seems not scary or anti-women.”
Beyond TikTok, far-right venture capitalist and noted surveillance titan Peter Thiel invested millions into the conservative online women’s magazine Evie, which recently created an app to help people track their periods (with very flimsy promises around privacy) and dissuade them from using birth control. And in a popular Twitter thread shared this week, a female writer at the conservative National Review called birth control “actively harmful” and erroneously identified it as “a carcinogenic.”
Anti-birth control TikTokers and the right, in general, capitalize on severely lacking sex ed in the U.S. and prey on people—often young women—who are just looking for help. “When you haven’t gotten that information at school, through sex ed, it’s really easy to be preyed upon,” Gandal-Powers said. Speaking of lacking sex ed, similarly, many anti-abortion politicians either know nothing or capitalize on the reality that most people know nothing about sexual and reproductive health to advance their legislation. They equate emergency contraception, which prevents pregnancy, with abortion, which ends pregnancy, and as a result, the fall of Roe has rendered the legal right and access to plan B increasingly tenuous.
Ultimately, different people have different experiences with forms of birth control. It’s fundamentally unfair, costly, and sexist that women and pregnant-capable people are forced to shoulder the burden of pregnancy prevention by default, and it’s important to validate that many have negative experiences with navigating the health system to get care—especially if they’re prescribed birth control methods that are wrong for them.
“Unfortunately, I think people have had bad experiences with providers who, intentionally or unintentionally, may not have the time they need to talk about other birth control methods, or make judgments about whether someone can use a method effectively,” Gandal-Powers said. “And that really is a negative experience with the healthcare system generally that plants that seed of distrust.”
But to be unequivocally clear, that’s not what Republicans or trad-wife wellness influencers are concerned about. They’re interested in stripping our rights to affordable, accessible birth control. In politics, Republicans aim to achieve this goal through legislation, and in our culture, women “wellness” influencers support this agenda by pushing the lie that it’s dangerous. Don’t believe them.
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