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The Culture War Coming for Your Birth Control

Contraceptive rights has become the new front in the far-right’s attack on women

A person holds a sign, My Body My Choice at NYC Pride a few days after the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Photo: Robert K. Chin / Alamy

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“Are you talking about how our generation was lied to? That a family is more fulfilling than a career, birth control is toxic, the gov doesn’t care about you and building a self sufficient community is the only way out of this mess?” reads the text over a video of a white, blonde woman in a floral dress, lip-syncing to dialogue from a film. The woman is Gwen The Milk Maid, an ASMR content creator turned home-steading ‘tradwife’ with 44,000 followers on TikTok. 

Anti-hormonal birth control content is on the rise across social media On TikTok, the hashtag #NaturalCycles currently has 37 million views, across thousands of videos of mostly young women discussing natural alternatives to hormonal birth control. 

There is plenty to be sceptical about when it comes to the pill and hormonal contraception in general. It is under-researched. It can cause a litany of side-effects from sore boobs to depression. It is often over-prescribed to young women with little regard for their personal circumstances.

While better education and social media has allowed young women to have more open conversations about birth control, another group has spotted an opportunity to exploit this discontent: the Far-Right.

Hazel Woodrow, a researcher with Anti-Hate Canada who has researched subcultures of White Nationalist teenage girls, and who was raised a Traditional Catholic, says she is now seeing similar rhetoric that was taught to her as a child – that birth control causes breast cancer and infertility – proliferating among teenage girls online. “Now I’m hearing it from teenage girls who like look like my very normal sisters on TikTok, and they’re not Trads, they’re not Evangelicals, they’re just regular teenage girls being like, did you know that if you take the pill, you’re never gonna get pregnant.” 

“The problem is that they’re not wrong, that it’s an inequitable system and that we have never put  a real strong effort into getting cis men on any kind of contraceptives”, she says.

“At the same time, I’m really afraid they don’t know whose rhetoric they are using.” 

The Global Network Behind Arrested Anti-Abortion Protestor

A woman arrested for ‘praying’ outside an abortion clinic may have been acquitted but she is one node of a global network, reports Sian Norris

The far-right has long been anti-pill for numerous reasons, depending on which faction you’re talking about. For Christian Fundamentalists, Evangelicals and Catholic lobbyists, it’s religious. For the New Age or Crunchy Far-Right, it’s unnatural. For Incels and male supremacists, it’s about undoing the tenuous gains of the sexual revolution and reinforcing patriarchal monogamy. But all these rivers spring from the same source; the desire to control women’s fertility and bodily autonomy in service of White Supremacy. 

White Women play two key roles within far-right communities. The first is that of reproductive labour. They are not just wives and mothers, they are birthers of nations. In this role, they are indispensable – you can’t combat the declining white birth rates and thus extinction of the white race (as so many far-right communities believe is happening, a conspiracy known as The Great Replacement) without fertile white women (or rather, people announced female at birth). The other is propaganda. White women ‘soften’ the image of far-right movements, normalising their views and providing a shield against accusations of misogyny and male supremacism.

By capitalising on concerns around hormonal birth control and encouraging young women to ‘free themselves’ from hormonal contraception, far-right female influencers are fulfilling both. “Far-right women influencers play an integral role in spreading anti-birth control content on social media, often reposting content created by ‘tradwives’ and alternative health and wellness influencers—even male influencer s,” says Dr Eviane Leidig, author of The Women of the Far Right.

“They share disinformation about the harmful effects of birth control options that have been debunked by the broader scientific community. Sometimes this content derives from amateur scientific studies and other times they cherry pick from legitimate studies to fit their narrative; either way, this purposeful sampling creates an aura of legitimacy for far-right claims”, she explains. 

In the last few months, this rise in birth control scepticism has begun to take tentative steps out of far-right circles and into the mainstream. Several stories have popped up in the British press this year raising concerns about the safety and legitimacy of hormonal birth control, with some purporting it can lead to an increased risk of breast cancer, while others breathlessly report findings that it can affect your sexual orientation (which I wrote about from a queer liberation perspective here). 

It’s not hard to see where the groundwork for birth control scepticism has been laid. In the UK, headlines ring out daily about the ‘dangers’ of gender ideology and untested hormonal therapies (HRT) being given to children. Mallory Moore, co-founder of the Trans Safety Network, which monitors networked transphobia in the UK, says that while she has not seen specifically anti-birth control content, the network has observed efforts to spread disinformation about ‘reproductive medicine in general’, as well as efforts to undermine ‘children’s rights to education around sex, contraception and abortion’. 

Contraception is the New Front of the Anti-Abortion War

Sian Norris reports on how a Texan judge has fired warning shots on restricting access to contraception, a well-rehearsed tactic in the attack on reproductive rights

“Overall we’re seeing a blended strategy of attacks on anything that might allow individuals who can bear children to control their own reproduction, weaponizing pretty much any available narrative they can for this quite opportunistically. It would be quite reasonable in my opinion to interpret existing attacks on transition medicine as part of this given the heavy focus on “mutilation” and “sterilisation” narratives in public discourse,” Mallory tells me over email. 

In May, anti-birth control rhetoric took another step onto UK soil when Marry Harrington, a contributing editor at UnHerd, delivered an address at the Nationalist Convention linking the pill to ‘transhumanism’. “The first mass-adoption technology that propelled us into this new age was the contraceptive pill. That is: the Pill was the first transhumanist technology,” she says, in a speech which rallies against trans health care for children and age-appropriate sex education in schools, warning that transhumanist ideas ‘have profound implications for medicine, policy and – crucially – commerce.’

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Sian Norris, author of Bodies Under Siege, points out that this is part of the mechanism through which Far-right beliefs around abortion and birth control are disseminated by lobbyist groups. “The way that I think of it is a pipeline,” she explains. “The first section [is the] conspiracy of far right ideology. […] Then we see them being laundered and whitewashed,” which is where organisations like the National Conservatism Conference, which are funded by the ‘Christian Right, or far right foundations’ come in, says Sian. “Then, of course, you get politicians in the picture.” 

It is through these pipelines that Sian has seen political attacks on abortion, birth-control, and LGBTQIA+ rights take root across Europe. The far-right is opportunistic; which cultural issues are pushed in which countries often depends more on the pragmatics of what can be made to stick, than ideological reasons. Having seen success with anti-abortion and and anti-birth control arguments in America and several places in Europe, the eyes of far-right groups have now landed on the UK. Whether these arguments are able to take root is up to us. 

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