While there's nothing palatable about imagining Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz anywhere near a college dorm condom dispenser, that's where we are right now. At a town hall meeting in Bettendorf, Iowa, Senator Cruz forced that image into all of our brains while making some extremely reductive (and straight-up incorrect) assertions about the very real issue of accessing affordable birth control.
Asked what he thought about "making contraceptives available to women who want to control their own bodies," Cruz played it for laughs.
"Last I checked, we don’t have a rubber shortage in America," he said, before explaining how back in his college dayz™ all you'd have to do is slither out to the vending machine, pop in 50 cents and "Jiminy Cricket!" you got yourself some birth control.
"So yes, anyone who wants contraceptives can access them, but it’s an utterly made-up nonsense issue," Cruz adds.
Now, while acknowledging that you can morally use condoms is (almost) deserving of a non-committal golf clap (not really), the real issue with this super dismissive non-answer is that it comes from an incredibly uninformed place: (1) By failing to know how women in the U.S. use contraceptives and (2) by claiming that accessing those contraceptives is not an issue.
Those 'rubbers,' as Cruz so-charmingly refers to, are not the end-all be-all of contraceptives -- in fact, sweeping statements about the availability of condoms barely hit the surface of the average woman's birth control experience. The Guttmacher Institute reports that the majority of sexually active women in the United States are turning to oral contraceptives (the pill) or female sterilization as their top choice for family planning. (also, BTW: Oral contraceptives are also used for so much more than just preventing pregnancy.)
Guttmacher also reports that condoms simply aren't the most effective methods for avoiding unwanted pregnancy: Implants, sterilization and intrauterine devices are all more than 99 percent effective, injectables are 94 percent effective and vaginal rings, patches and the pill are 91 percent effective -- while male condoms (Cruz's "rubbers") clock in at 82 percent. Condoms are still great (go condoms!) -- but most women use more than just one measly barrier method to ensure that they are only getting pregnant because they want to be pregnant.
Unfortunately, women who come from low-income backgrounds (who are considered "at risk" for unwanted pregnancies) are significantly less likely to have access to information about contraceptive methods and are less likely to be able to afford them out of pocket.
However, recent studies show that giving young women access to free long-acting methods (like IUDs or implants) greatly decreased (by 40 percent!) the teen birthrate.
FYI, that's what a nuanced and informed understanding of how American women use birth control looks like and that's what we want from our future leaders.
For more information on birth control and contraceptive options, check out It's Your Sex Life.