Ad campaign targets NC GOP over the right to birth control. Here’s who’s behind it

As the 2024 election season ramps up, so will political advertisements, and one group is getting started early.

The Americans for Contraception Education Fund says it has launched a high-six-figure ad campaign in North Carolina in favor of access to contraceptives.

The group has been involved in campaigns in favor of contraceptives across various states, including Ohio, Wisconsin and Virginia. These ads often target Republican officials. Despite this involvement, The News & Observer could not find many details on the organization online.

The group did issue a statement to The N&O.

“Through storytelling, proactive messaging, and organizing, AFCEF will educate and inform Americans at the federal and state level about policies affecting their right to contraception,” said Chris Fleming, spokesperson for Americans for Contraception.

“AFCEF will also create an educational foundation around the importance of establishing the right to contraception,” said Fleming, in a written statement shared by Susanna Hailey with Raleigh-based firm Nexus Strategies.

AFCEF bought ads online and in print in The N&O, targeting lawmakers including Republican Sens. Paul Newton, Tom McInnis, Michael Lee and Lisa Barnes.

These ads, which feature the photo and office phone number of these lawmakers, call on readers to reach out to the state officials and ask them where they stand on their Right To Use Contraception Act.

House Bill 670 and Senate Bill 540, which both would be called the Right to Use Contraception Act if passed into law, would declare that North Carolina “has no legitimate governmental interest in limiting the freedom to use contraception to prevent pregnancy.” Neither bill has had a hearing or moved forward.

A similar federal bill, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Kathy Manning, a Democrat from Greensboro, says that “an individual has a statutory right” to obtain “contraceptives and to voluntarily engage in contraception, free from coercion.” It also says health care providers have the right to provide contraceptives.

Scant details about Americans for Contraception

According to its website, the Americans for Contraception Education Fund “was created to alert Americans about the current state of contraception rights and how they are under attack.”

The website adds: “We learned from Americans’ reactions to the overturning of Roe v. Wade,” which cut federal abortion protections, “that the public did not realize how abortion rights and access were seriously under threat until it was too late. We must not make the same mistake with contraception.” The site does not feature information about the founders of the organization or affiliates.

There are currently no campaign finance disclosures by this organization in North Carolina. According to OpenSecrets, which tracks federal filings across the years, Americans for Contraception has declared $25,000 in special interest lobbying in 2023. Little else is listed about this organization in federal filings.

Before last year’s midterm elections, outside groups flooded the airwaves in North Carolina with tens of millions of dollars in political ads, especially in the last two months leading up to Election Day, as previously reported by The N&0. Federal filing records showed that groups affiliated with Republicans massively outspent groups affiliated with Democrats in the marquee race that year, for U.S. Senate.

Democrats call attention to birth control rights

AFCEF was most recently involved with a pro-contraceptives rally at the North Carolina Legislative Building on Tuesday.

There, Sen. Graig Meyer, an Orange County Democrat, North Carolina Democratic Party Chair Anderson Clayton and others called for protecting access to contraception.

“Since we’ve started this legislative session, we’ve seen that the North Carolina Republican Party and their legislative leadership are on a downward spiral to take away women’s right to reproductive health care,” Meyer said.

“We want to put a stop to that. Both on their attacks on abortion, and to affirmatively say to North Carolinians that we believe that they all have a right to contraception,” Meyer said.

In early September, Manning and fellow Democratic U.S. Reps. Wiley Nickel and Deborah Ross, as well as two sponsors of the state-level bills, Democratic Sen. Lisa Grafstein and Rep. Julie von Haefen, held a press conference in support of enhanced contraceptive access in North Carolina.

Grafstein said Wednesday she did not know much information about Americans for Contraception Education Fund. “I’ve gotten, you know, obviously contacted (by them) about some of these events,” she said.

“I filed a bill and I guess because my name was on it, they’ve reached out to me,” she said.

Meyer, who co-sponsored Grafstein’s bill, said Wednesday he was contacted by the AFCEF and someone they hired to coordinate advocacy in North Carolina.

“All I know is that they’re a national organization working on pushing positive contraception access legislation across the states,” Meyer said. “We filed this bill in part of trying to have some things to be proactive on related to reproductive health care and not just always playing on the defensive.”

Hailey, who sent out news releases for the AFCEF rally Tuesday, did not reply to questions from the N&O on the group’s filings and campaign details.

In North Carolina, people can currently access some kinds of birth control, including oral contraceptives, directly from a pharmacist without a doctor’s prescription. The state passed new abortion restrictions this year, which ban licensed physicians from performing abortions after the 12th week of pregnancy, with some exceptions.

In September, Manning noted that when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal right to abortion, Justice Clarence Thomas also called “for the reconsideration of a constitutional right to use contraception.” She said that at least nine states have limited access to contraceptives.

Stephen Wiley, the N.C. House Republican Caucus director, said Wednesday he had not seen “any serious legislation filed by the folks that worked on the abortion legislation this year in particular, that would ban contraceptives.”

“I’m not aware of any kind of movement to ban contraceptives,” in North Carolina,” he said.

Wiley pointed at funding in the 12-week abortion ban bill that provides $3.5 million each year for two years to increase the amount of contraceptives available.