The Midterm Elections Were A Mixed Bag For Birth Control Access & Reproductive Rights

Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

This year's midterm candidates generally didn't make birth control a central theme of their campaigns, instead choosing to focus on topics like healthcare and immigration. But reproductive rights were still deeply relevant to the elections. It won't be entirely clear what the 2018 midterms meant for birth control until the newly-elected officials start serving their terms — but there are a few things that it's possible to say based on what's already clear now.

Democratic congressional candidates were far more likely to support expanded access to birth control this midterm season whereas Republican candidates far more often stated their opposition to it. The big elections takeaway is that Democratic gains in the House have now made it less likely for Republicans to pose a legislative threat to birth control access in the next two years. But because the GOP maintained power in the Senate, the party is well-positioned to legally threaten it by confirming additional conservative Supreme Court nominees.

Had Republicans kept the House, we could have seen an effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act's requirement that insurers cover contraceptives (and do so without copays). This mandate has been a major birth control battleground in recent years. Axios reported that the GOP was prepared to launch another assault against the ACA if they kept control of both chambers of government.

Republican Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee's new senator who headed an aggressive investigation into Planned Parenthood during her time in the House, is just one newly-elected candidate who's expressed hostility to the mandate. Speaking in 2014, she said, "What women want is not free contraceptives. ... We want the government to stay out of our way." Ted Cruz, who won the highly-watched Senate race in Texas against Beto O'Rourke, is another who's argued against expanding birth control access. "Last I checked, we don't have a rubber shortage in America," he said in 2015. "Anyone who wants contraceptives can access them ... it's an utter made-up nonsense issue."

But because Republicans lost the House, they are much less likely to take on another big fight against the Affordable Care Act. Any bill repealing or changing parts of the act would need the approval of a significant chunk of that Democratic majority to pass. Still, Democrats also probably won't be able to pass any new legislation expanding contraceptive access (that would also require both chambers' support). Increasing public funding for birth control is a popular issue among reproductive rights advocates; doing so would particularly help lower-income women. That seems unlikely to happen on the national level for at least two years.

There's a starker picture for birth control access in the judicial branch. President Donald Trump has already been able to confirm two extremely conservative Supreme Court justices with just a slim GOP majority in the Senate. Now that Republicans have expanded their lead, it will be even easier for him to continue to do so if more vacancies come up in the court. As Tonic reports, a far-right court could rule against requiring family planning clinics to offer contraceptives and employers to cover the cost of insuring it.

Throughout his first two years in office, Trump and his administration have made it clear that restricting birth control access is a priority of theirs. The New York Times recently reported, for example, that the administration was trying to help employers restrict access to birth control based on religious exemptions.

The midterms don't appear to have been either an outright victory or defeat for birth control access. The threat of additional, nationwide reproductive rights restrictions largely hinges on whether or not more seats open on the Supreme Court in the next two years.

Lani Seelinger contributed to this report.