In June, the Supreme Court delivered a highly controversial decision that allows business owners with strongly held religious convictions to be exempt from providing health insurance that provides birth control for their employees.
The split decision was handed down by the all male Catholic majority, and has led to other institutions claiming similar permanent exemptions. The ruling was supported by the religious right, as well as conservative politicians who continually wish to dismantle the already successful Affordable Care Act that has provided more affordable health insurance for millions of Americans.
In a twist that is only surprising to Republicans, their support for allowing women to be at the mercy of their employer’s non-scientific beliefs has caused their already tenuous support from women to plummet dramatically.
With midterm elections just around the corner, the members of the least popular Congress in the history of Congress are on vacation trying to shore up support among their constituents. Few expect huge changes in the overall breakdown of political parties due to the notoriously low turnout for non-presidential year elections. Still, Republicans are hoping that they can make some inroads in the tenuous majority Democrats hold in the Senate, which would give them control over both houses of Congress.
So they’ve decided to reach out to women.
Colorado Republican state congressman Cory Gardner, and candidate for the U.S. Senate, says that the U.S. Congress needs to stop its zero sum approach to women’s medical care and adopt modern policies that meet their needs. In an Op-Ed piece in the Denver Post in June, Gardner proposed approving oral contraception for sale over the counter (OTC). This, as he points out, will lower costs for women and allow them to be in control of their reproductive health.
It is an excellent idea.
Nearly 70 percent of countries around the world have oral contraceptives available over the counter. The other 30 percent, including the U.S. and Canada, require both a screening and a prescription. The birth control pill has been available in the United States for more than 40 years and has decades of research and testing behind it. It has been proven safe and effective and the only real “danger” in taking the medication incorrectly is, well, getting pregnant. Even for those for whom the oral contraceptives could be dangerous due to medical complications, the risk is still very minimal.
In other words, there is no scientific or medical reason for birth control pills to not be available over the counter.
In December 2012, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) officially recommended that oral contraceptives be made available OTC. In addition to the minimal medical risks, they highlight the lower cost of OTC medications, as well as studies that show women can safely and accurately assess their risks and choose the right medication after consultation with their doctors. Meaning, there is no need to see a doctor to get a prescription. There is also no risk of overdose, and that having oral contraceptives available via OTC would go a long way in reducing unintended pregnancies.
The idea is not a new one and the sincerity of the proposal is questionable coming from the party that is overrun by an anti-choice majority.
Gardner’s proposal has been trumpeted by other Republican Senate candidates, mainly those running in tough battles in blue states with strong Democratic candidates. Even though it is a good idea, it is dripping with election year hypocrisy. In his Op-Ed, Gardner blames provisions in the ACA from preventing OTC oral contraceptives being covered by insurance. He also says that the Democrats’ desire to attack Republicans’ views on contraception is part of the reason that it has not gone forward. He conveniently leaves out his own previous opposition to birth control, including his support banning approval of emergency contraception and for Colorado’s defeated personhood amendment.
Not to mention it’s the FDA’s job to approve drugs for over-the-counter sales, which it has been “considering” for oral contraceptives — for more than 20 years.
Women now receive a wide variety of the most common birth control options available under the Affordable Care Act absolutely free (another point Gardner leaves out in his Op-Ed). However, for those that aren’t able to access affordable health insurance or qualify for Medicaid, they are still in need of access to affordable birth control. Making oral contraceptives available over the counter could be a viable alternative for millions of women.
Of course, it is an election year and the idea will be quickly forgotten after November.