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The Men’s Guide to the War on Reproductive Rights

It’s not just about abortion rights—it’s about birth control, too. Read up if you‘d like to avoid an unexpected pregnancy.

If you, a dude, think about birth control at all, it’s likely that the extent of it is just hoping you don’t knock someone up. Maybe that means you put a rubber on it, or cross your fingers hoping she remembered to swallow the Pill—but odds are you’re leaning on your lady to take care of business.

That should end now.

If you care at all about keeping your right (and, ahem, hers) to decide if and when to breed — and how to prevent that pregnancy in the first place — news that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy will retire July 31 should have you have shaking in those boots you want to knock so badly.

Kennedy’s retirement is a TKO move in the endless boxing match against women’s reproductive freedom, and in the event of an unplanned pregnancy, the last thing you want is a country where birth control becomes suddenly harder to get than a batch of Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve — and where seeking an abortion in your state becomes a nightmare.

Both are now frighteningly real possibilities, so let’s talk about what the hell is going on.

Okay, who’s this Kennedy guy who’s retiring? And why are people freaking out?

Anthony Kennedy is a centrist who’s been on the Supreme Court since 1987. He is far from a progressive judge, but he supported women’s constitutional right to an abortion and upheld Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that legalized abortion nationwide. He also blocked efforts that made it extremely difficult for women to get one.

With Roe, conservatives tend to obey the letter of the law but not the spirit. The last four decades have seen an ongoing, widespread, kitchen-sink approach to find any way possible to prevent women from terminating pregnancies and make their lives miserable when they try to.

Women need abortions? Close the clinics because the elevators aren’t wide enough! Restrict the term limit on abortions to 15 weeks! (Given that many women don’t even realize they’re pregnant until they’re six weeks along, this is terrifying.) Women need to end a pregnancy? They’d better prove they notified their husband first! And when they do, they can have fun traveling 700 miles to get to the nearest clinic.

The remaining eight justices are split evenly on abortion issues, leaving Kennedy’s successor to be the deciding vote. Since Trump has promised to appoint a pro-life court justice, the likelihood of that vote swinging in a woman’s favor is nil. If a state pushes through a law that makes its way to the Supreme Court docket, it could give the court a chance for a do-over on Roe.

So what happens if Roe is overturned?

In short, abortion could become illegal in dozens of states.

The Center for Reproductive Rights warns that the number of at-risk states is closer to 30, issuing a state-by-state alert level that explains each existing state’s law and its vulnerability to an abortion ban. While some states have laws on the books to ban abortion immediately in the event Roe is overturned, what’s far more likely is that abortion will become increasingly impossible to access, because clinics will shutter and term limits will decrease.

Okay, so all I have to do is not get anyone pregnant.

Nah, they’re trying to fuck with that, too. It’s important (if confusing) to note that as much as conservatives hate abortion, for some weird reason they hate birth control, too, even though it seems like they’d fund it faster than a new war if it meant fewer abortions. Many still pretend contraception is the same thing as abortion. (It isn’t.)

Law experts and reproductive-rights activists are particularly spooked about Kennedy’s replacement upending two other cases, Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) and Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972), which effectively lifted restrictions to contraception access based on the right to privacy to make these intimate decisions for ourselves.

Yes, you read that right: It took two Supreme Court decisions to give married couples and singletons the right to use contraception in the first place. As Salon lays out, this notion has been long disputed by conservatives who insist this right to privacy is fiction not guaranteed by the Constitution, including current Chief Justice John Roberts. Just as similar efforts have been in place to neuter abortion access, the same wheels have been in motion to restrict contraceptive access.

So if they reinterpret those cases, we’d be back to 45 years ago, and states would be newly empowered to find ways to bar contraceptives. (A federal ban would be unlikely.)

So they can just take the Pill and IUDs away?

Not exactly, but they can make it expensive and difficult to get. Actually, the Trump administration has already been doing this. Sometimes they just pull funding to any clinic that offers or just utters the word abortion, kneecapping it so it can’t even offer contraception education. Instead, Trump officials said women should be taught “refusal skills,” which means your president would just like to keep women from fucking you in general. (No need to bring up the irony of Trump preaching “refusal skills.”)

Gynecologists report that many women are calling in very rattled about ensuring birth control protection now, because they aren’t sure how this will trickle down to insurance coverage from employers who object to birth control and how it may affect the cost. Trump is already big on empowering doctors to refuse birth control to people based on their religious objections; this could give such groups a giant shot of steroids.

All right, I’m pissed about it. So what the hell do we do?

What happens next with Trump’s picks will be up to the Senate. But just as women have done at various points in the last two years of the Trump administration, they are now flocking to stock up on birth control or getting an IUD implanted to shore up against the looming restrictions.

That, of course, is just a Band-Aid.

What men should do is take this moment to really understand, sympathize and support what women are up against. Family planning for women is expensive and fraught enough as it is. It’s a complex management system without a perfect guarantee that involves navigating an already imperfect set of options at great expense, personal health risks and a lot of trial and error. There is no perfect birth control, since they all have side effects and varying success rates, but it’s better than nothing.

Controlling when or if you get pregnant is the single most important aspect of women’s agency in the world. Conservatives know this, which is why they’ve always frothed at the mouth to rescind it.

The only good news here, if you could call it that, is that the emergency contraceptive Plan B has a four-year shelf life, and women are now crossing their fingers if it becomes the only stopgap they have.

If nothing else, pick up a few boxes — or a hundred — for any woman you care about.