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Conservative influencers are pushing an anti-birth control message

Alarmist statements about hormonal birth control go viral on social media, but experts say they’re not showing the full picture.
Image of blister pack of birth control pills. The image gradually becomes blurry and pixelated.
Owen Berg / NBC News / Getty Images

Major conservative influencers on social media platforms such as Twitter and Rumble have coalesced in recent months around talking points that connect birth control with a variety of negative health outcomes, which experts say instill fear in women who could otherwise benefit from using birth control. 

But the information the influencers are referring to lacks crucial context, says Dr. Danielle Jones, an OB-GYN, and they fail to include recent scientific developments that challenge their narrative.

Tim Pool, Ben Shapiro and Steve Bannon have all made anti-birth control content in the past six months. Sometimes, they feature female conservative personalities who make content about women’s issues. 

Alex Clark, who hosts a pop culture show for the youth conservative messaging organization Turning Point USA, is one conservative woman who has railed against hormonal birth control in recent months. The progressive watchdog publication Media Matters for America first reported that Clark said her “mission” is “to get young women off this pill.” In a response sent in a direct message, Clark wrote “Birth control can be right for some in some cases, but we shouldn’t just take it blindly because of acne and we shouldn’t treat it as the default for all women.”

While some strains of conservative politics have spent years attacking birth control, the more recent resurgence of anti-birth control talking points comes alongside a broader push from online conservative creators against the medical establishment and treatments from vaccines to gender-affirming care, all of which have been recommended in certain circumstances by the American Medical Association. In her response, Clark called birth control “synthetic,” as opposed to pregnancy, which she called “natural.”

The social media trend of attacking birth control has also coincided with legal and legislative efforts targeting birth control access, most notably emergency contraceptives. In response to the Supreme Court’s ruling that revoked the constitutional right to an abortion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the court “should reconsider” other decisions, including those codifying the right to contraceptive access. 

Jones, who is also a YouTube creator with 1.2 million subscribers, has made multiple videos discussing the rhetoric around reproductive health. In an interview, she said the primary tactic she’s observed on social media to undermine birth control has been “to take a study that backs up what they’re saying, then use that to draw some extravagant conclusion.” 

“It’s thinly veiled, but it’s veiled enough that the average person often doesn’t identify it,” she said. 

Many videos point to a 2018 study that found an association between taking hormonal birth control and suicide attempts and suicide in women in Denmark. But researchers and physicians who have cited the study have urged patients not to stop using hormonal birth control. Rather, health care experts have said that doctors should discuss any potential mood effects of the medication with patients, as other studies have contradicted the 2018 study, and pregnancy can also have mood side effects. 

Ashley St. Clair, who has more than 673,000 Twitter followers, referred to the association suggested in the study in a tweet in which she said “Did you know the birth control pill increases risk of suicide and suicidal ideations?” In June, Twitter owner Elon Musk liked a number of anti-birth control tweets, including St. Clair’s tweet.

Jones said the 2018 Dutch study into suicide and hormonal birth control was “really important and well-done.” 

But she said just reading the 2018 study’s abstract and drawing conclusions from that alone is lacking crucial context when making medical decisions. Primarily, she said, the risks of contraceptive use are not compared to the same risks in pregnancy, which she said are higher. The 2018 study specifically acknowledges that pregnancy also has association with higher rates of suicide. 

In a phone interview, St. Clair said she believes women are being put on birth control at a young age without being told the risks of depression and suicidal thoughts. 

“I was on it at 14 and I wasn’t told these things,” she said. “I really believe there needs to be more education for women around this.”

Similarly, Clark wrote in her response to NBC News that she wants patients to be “radically thoughtful” about making medical decisions.

“That starts with understanding the potential side effects, not downplaying them,” she wrote.

Jones tells her own social media audience to consider the motivation of people who post about birth control online. Oftentimes, they’re coming from a religious or political perspective, or they’re trying to sell something, she said, adding they are neglecting the scientific consensus in favor of alarmist sentiments. She pointed out that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has recommended that birth control be offered over the counter to anyone.  

“There’s extensive data on this,” she said. “If birth control is safe enough to advocate that it should be over the counter, there’s absolutely no reason it should start to become a topic of legislation about who can access it and why.” 

Still, Jones said, the way conservative influencers weaponize research about birth control's side effects has a real-world effect. 

She said it is a daily occurrence for women at her practice to decline using hormonal birth control out of fear that it will cause permanent changes to their body and fertility. 

“You basically are scaring people out of using birth control and not even comparing it to pregnancy,” Jones said.

In place of birth control, she said, many conservatives have taken a page from the natural health community and promoted cycle tracking and other fertility awareness methods. Several of the female conservative influencers write for and share articles from Evie Magazine, a media company whose founder also created a cycle-tracking startup called 28 by Evie. Conservative billionaire tech titan Peter Thiel has invested in the startup and more recently in fertility companies targeting international markets. During her interview, St. Clair also suggested that women should be taught to track their cycles as an alternative to medication birth control.

But, Jones said, fertility awareness methods to prevent pregnancy could fail “even in the most experienced person.” They require taking the temperature every day before getting out of bed, monitoring cervical mucus and knowing exactly what to look for, keeping track of all of these things on a chart, and avoiding intercourse or using another method to prevent pregnancy within the fertile window, she said. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, fertility cycle tracking is among the least effective types of birth control, and that effectiveness varies by couple. It said that as many as 24 out of 100 women who use natural family planning will become pregnant within the first year. A 2021 study of period-tracking apps for fertility planning found that out of 10 apps used, all of them gave conflicting dates of fertility, most of which were incorrect. 

“People get pregnant because they didn’t know they had to do all these things to make that effective,” she said.