Are Reeves, Gunn considering IUDs as contraceptives? You won’t tell.

After state leaders claimed they wouldn’t ban contraception in Mississippi, they declined to answer questions about exactly what that means.

State leaders scrambled this week to make it clear that Mississippi’s contraceptive ban is not on the table after Gov. Tate Reeves declined on national television to rule out a contraceptive ban.

But neither Reeves nor House Speaker Philip Gunn answered questions from Mississippi Today whether they consider intrauterine devices (IUDs) and Plan B — which Louisiana’s anti-abortion lawmaker has proposed to ban — as birth control. Idaho lawmakers have proposed banning Plan B, while Missouri lawmakers have attempted to label IUDs and Plan B as pro-abortion, which doctors say is inaccurate.

Meanwhile, family planning providers in Mississippi are focused on what they see as the bottom line after a leaked draft opinion suggesting the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to rule Roe v. Wade: Contraceptives of all kinds are legal in Mississippi, and nothing in the draft opinion itself would change that.

But such a ruling would make access more important for women and babies in a state with such poor outcomes. Mississippi has one of the nation’s highest rates of unplanned pregnancy and maternal mortality, and the highest infant mortality rate.

“What we want to affirm is that contraception is legally accessible,” said Jamie Bardwell, one of the co-founders of Converge, the nonprofit that now administers Mississippi’s $4.5 million federal family planning grant. “There is currently no law on the table that would restrict this. A majority of women have used it and we anticipate any future restrictions on access to abortion will increase demand for contraceptives.”

A Delta group is already taking action. More than half of the counties in the rural region do not have a gynecologist. The delta is home to about a third of all black Mississippians, who are about three times more likely than white Mississippians to die from pregnancy-related complications and are more likely to lose their babies before their first birthday.

Plan A, the mobile health clinic set up to expand access to reproductive health care in the area, said in an email on Wednesday that it plans to provide emergency contraception to more than 250 patients over the next three months, as well as free distribute pregnancy tests.

Reeves said in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday morning that he believes life begins at conception. When asked, he declined to say whether by “conception” he meant fertilization of an egg or implantation in the uterus, usually around five to six days later.

When subsequently asked if the state would consider banning certain forms of birth control, Reeves said, “That’s not what we’re focused on right now.”

The exact meaning of “conception” is important because some IUDs, which normally prevent fertilization, can also prevent implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus. Laws that say life begins at fertilization could therefore ban certain forms of contraception.

They could also criminalize emergency contraceptives like Plan B, which most commonly prevent pregnancy by stopping ovulation but can also stop implantation.

In Louisiana, a Legislative Committee approved a bill that would make abortion a homicide, stating that life “should be equally protected from fertilization to natural death.”

reeves posted a Twitter thread later on Sunday to provide “some clarification” on his interviews with NBC’s Tapper and Chuck Todd.

“I’m not interested in banning contraceptives,” he wrote.

Mississippi Today asked Reeves’ office this week if he considered IUDs a contraceptive. The office responded with a statement that didn’t directly answer the question.

“The governor has made it clear that he has no interest in banning contraceptives,” a spokesman said in a statement.

Mississippi Today asked a second time if the speaker would answer directly if Reeves considers IUDs and Plan B contraceptives. She did not answer.

Philip Gunn is the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Recognition: Vickie D. King/Mississippi today

House Speaker Philip Gunn issued a statement saying that shortly after Reeves’ televised interviews, the House of Representatives would not move legislation banning contraceptives.

“Reg. Reeves’ recent interviews have created confusion about the future of contraception in MS following a ruling on Dobbs,” he said on Twitter. “The left’s scaremongering to make pro-life states look extreme won’t work. Rest assured @MSHouseofRep would not move any laws banning contraceptives.”

Gunn’s office did not respond to calls and texts from Mississippi Today asking if he considered IUDs and Plan B contraceptives.

Reeves’ Twitter thread on Sunday claimed that the contraceptive ban “has never been a conversation here.”

But Mississippi lawmakers have in the past supported measures that could have criminalized certain forms of contraception. In 2011, many supported a constitutional amendment that would define life as “inclusive of every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the equivalent thereof.” Opponents argued that if passed, it would ban both contraceptives and in vitro fertilization (IVF), and 58% of voters opposed it.

Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, the author of many anti-abortion laws, said in an interview with Mississippi Today that he doesn’t expect a revival of “personhood” legislation because the state’s trigger law prohibits abortion in nearly all cases will be prohibited. He said he was not interested in banning contraceptives.

“I’m for all birth control methods except abortion,” he said.

The anti-abortion movement contains a range of views on contraceptives. Some see them as a way to reduce abortions, while others oppose them for the same reasons they oppose abortions, believing that life begins with fertilization. Groups such as Students for Life of America and Americans United for Life have referred to IUDs and Plan B as “an abortifacient” or a drug or chemical that induces an abortion.

Although there is only one abortion clinic in Mississippi, IUDs and other forms of long-acting, reversible contraceptives (LARCs) are widely available. These forms of contraception are the most effective: a copper IUD prevents more than 99% of pregnancy, compared to about 85% for male condoms.

Family planning providers in Mississippi are preparing for an end to legal abortion access in the state.

In addition to distributing emergency contraception and pregnancy testing, Plan A is working with local gynecologists to add prenatal services.

“Mississippi has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country, and the ban on abortion will lead to an increase in high-risk pregnancies with no plans to lower barriers to care for pregnant women,” the email said. “Plan A will help close that gap.”

Converge, which manages federal funds to ensure low-income Mississippi residents have access to birth control and other reproductive health services, is focused on introducing telemedicine to make it easier for people to get prescriptions.

“I think we’re all preparing for the decision when it comes to creating a higher need for contraception and a higher need for clear and accurate public communication about contraceptive availability,” said Danielle Lampton, co-founder of Converge.

Mississippi citizens who use Title X services have historically been less likely to receive high-potency LARCs and are more likely to end up on birth control pills or male condoms.

“We don’t want the community to be confused by the news,” said Jitoria Hunter, director of external affairs at Converge.

— Article credit to Isabelle Taft of Mississippi Today —

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