Women's Empowerment

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Death Sparked a Scramble for Contraception—Here’s How Her Legacy Impacts Future Access

Kells McPhillips

Photo: Getty Images/Mark Wilson; Graphics: Well+Good Creative

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death on Friday sparked an outpouring of tributes honoring her remarkable life. To call Justice Ginsburg a champion of women’s rights would be a modest commendation. In her 87 years—27 of which she served on the Supreme Court—she helped qualified women enter the military, pushed Congress to sign equal pay legislation, and advocated for women’s reproductive rights at every opportunity. Now that she’s gone, the freedoms granted by Roe v. Wade in 1973 are once again at stake—and Americans are bracing themselves for a fight.

Ginsburg’s now empty seat on the court offers Republicans an ideal moment to secure a greater court majority, potentially posing a future threat to the right to birth control, safe abortions, and so much more. President Donald Trump has the power to nominate someone for the vacancy. Once he’s done that, the Republican-controlled Senate will have the opportunity to confirm the nomination, tipping the court’s balance in favor of conservatives with a six-to-three majority.

In the event that Trump is able to fill the seat before the election on November 3 , there’s a good chance that Roe v. Wade—which established abortion as a right protected by the Constitution—could be stripped or even overturned entirely. On top of that, a conservative court could find other ways to limit contraceptive access. (Remember: A court ruling March left 100,000 women without birth control after upholding a Trump administration regulation that allows private employers to opt out of insurance coverage for contraceptives based on religious or moral grounds.)

Faced with the overwhelming possibility that their reproductive rights could soon be taken away, many women have reacted to Ginsburg’s death in a strikingly similar way to their actions following President Trump’s election on November 8, 2016. That is: By making sure they have an insurance plan for their birth control in the event that the government fails to uphold their rights.

“With the passing of Justice Ginsburg, many women feel like they have lost an influential advocate for women’s rights and health equity.” —Melynda Barnes, MD

In the first week after the 2016 election, Planned Parenthood noted a 900 percent increase in appointments for intrauterine devices (IUDs), along with a deluge of questions about access to health care and birth control. Following Ginsburg’s death (and nearly four years after the election), patient-driven telehealth company Ro has seen a similar trend with a marked increase in searches for birth control on Ro Pharmacy: the company’s mail-order pharmacy that delivers medications for just $5 per month without insurance. (Planned Parenthood doesn’t yet have data about appointments scheduled after Ginsburg’s death.)

Melynda Barnes, MD, SVP of medical affairs and research at Ro, says that she links the increase in interest to Ginsburg’s death, but there are other motivators, too. “With the passing of Justice Ginsburg, many women feel like they have lost an influential advocate for women’s rights and health equity. Additionally, the recent Supreme Court ruling that allows employers to limit birth control access has put sexual and reproductive health care in jeopardy for many,” she says. “This has all been compounded by the instability of healthcare access during the pandemic. With all of this uncertainty, cash pay healthcare can be an affordable and reliable way for women to get high-quality care that doesn’t require insurance.”

Ginsburg’s death shines a harsh spotlight on all the reproductive injustices from which she shielded every American. And it does raise the question of why that burden seems to have fallen on Ginsburg and Ginsburg alone. In her absence, we are reminded that she was a custodian of human rights. We need more RBGs. We need more politicians who will serve as our insurance policy when our rights wind up on the chopping block.

In her absence, we have to do the work ourselves. First and foremost: We need to vote. We need to write to our senators and ask them to think of us when they vote whether or not to confirm Trump’s nominee. We need to assemble and march and fight for freedom in our own bodies. Ginsburg’s miraculous life blazed a trail for us to become our own representatives. We owe it to her to follow that trail, to make our own forks in the road, and to ensure future generations have more women like her to admire and emulate.

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