If advocates for women's reproductive rights learned anything from the fifty-year battle over abortion, it's how aggressive Republican opponents of Roe were.
While it seems a triumph for public health that the FDA has finally approved the over-the-counter sale of the birth control pill Opill, abortion opponents see this as the next frontier in the legal fight to outlaw all abortion and contraception in the United States.
Is this an exaggeration? After all, more than 100 nations already permit the OTC sale of birth control pills. But consider the alarming response to Opill from one Kristan Hawkins, President of the non-profit Students for Life of America (SFLA).
Hawkins said that if women can get the pill on their own, it will make it "easier for criminals to cover up their sexual abuse and statutory rape crimes." In other words, the police need the baby as evidence of the crime, so women shouldn't have access to the pill! Hawkins has also said that the pill and the IUD should be illegal.
We could write Hawkins off as a hopeless ideologue, except that the pedigree of her group is revealing.
SFLA was founded in response to Roe as an all-volunteer organization whose goal was to convince high school and college students to oppose abortion. In 2005 it rebranded and hired a paid staff, with Hawkins as its president. It now claims thousands of "chapters" across the country. In 2020 it reported $11.7 million in revenue; $9.2 million in expenses; and $7.4 million in assets.
The source of most of this $11.7 million is secret. A good guess is that it comes from the right-wing, dark money, billionaire friends of Leonard Leo, who just happens to be co-chairman of the Board of the SFLA.
Leo is the former Executive VP of the Federalist Society, the group that propelled anti-abortion justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett to the Supreme Court. Leo is the chief apologist for embattled Justice Clarence Thomas. He has been running a covert public relations campaign to buff up Thomas's battered image.
In the Dobbs decision, Thomas suggested it would be a good idea to revisit Griswold v. Connecticut. This is the bedrock 1962 case that struck down a Connecticut statute making it illegal for a couple to use contraception. It is the key decision establishing a constitutional right to privacy that banishes the state and its police power from the bedroom. It established that reproductive issues are best left to couples and their doctor. Thomas clearly disagrees.
Now Leo, acting through the obscure SFLA, throws gasoline on this fire by suggesting that the state should outlaw not only abortion but also contraception. This ominous cast of characters---Leo, Thomas, Hawkins, the SFLA---suggests where the fate of Opill may be heading.
The strategies anti-abortion zealots like Hawkins will employ to attack Opill are many. Here are a few:
As they did with mifepristone, they will challenge the FDA's decision to approve Opill for OTC sale.
They will argue that insurance companies should not cover the cost of an OTC drug. (South Carolina does not now require that insurance cover the cost of Opill.) They will oppose any effort by President Biden to require that insurers under the Affordable Care Act pay for the drug.
They will gaslight the public about the safety of Opill. The SFLA website already features a young woman claiming the pill will cause strokes, blood clots, personality changes, and more.
They will conflate abortion and contraception to confuse those who don't know the difference.
They will lobby state legislators to pass laws limiting sales only to women over 21. Such laws will require purchasers to show an ID, a turnoff for many.
They will use a national lobbying campaign to convince drugstore chains not to sell Opill.
They will picket drug stores in conservative areas to force them not to stock it.
They will play the religion card, urging pharmacists and drugstore employees to refuse to sell the product because it offends their personal beliefs. The Supreme Court, as we know, has accepted this argument for pastry chefs and web designers who are offended at the thought of serving the LGBTQ community.
The only way to combat this effort is to be ready for it. Tell our state representatives to keep their hands off Opill. Thank pharmacies that sell it without hassle. Demand that Nancy Mace, Tim Scott, Lindsey Graham, and Henry McMaster publicly endorse the OTC sale of Opill.
The state has already used its police power to damage the practice of medicine, reduce the availability of drugs, and invade personal privacy. Opill will be the next test of our resolve to protect reproductive freedom.