The hot trend among Republican candidates is a surprising one, to say the least. As of now, four GOP Senate contenders have endorsed making birth control pills available over the counter.
All four – Cory Gardner in Colorado, Thom Tillis in North Carolina, Ed Gillespie in Virginia and Mike McFadden in Minnesota – oppose abortion rights, and all four oppose the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that insurance policies pay for preventive care, including birth control, with no deductibles or co-pays. Yet these conservative Republicans are touting their commitment to easily available birth control. It’s likely that more Republicans will now be asked their positions on over-the-counter birth control, and some will embrace it to counter Democratic criticism that they’re soldiers in a “war on women.”
The newfound embrace of birth control pills sold over the counter might seem odd, even bizarre. But it makes more sense if you think about it as a fundamentally elitist position. Conservatives have long been more concerned with restricting the reproductive choices available to poor and middle-class women while leaving wealthy women free to do pretty much as they please. This position is perfectly in line with that history.
Let’s be clear that making birth control pills available over the counter would be a good thing – but only if insurance continued to pay for it. The pill can cost as much as $600 a year, which is out of reach for many women. And insurance companies seldom reimburse customers for medications bought over the counter.
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By opposing the Affordable Care Act, these GOP candidates oppose requiring insurance companies to pay for any birth control in policies women have bought. And that’s not to mention other forms of contraception, like IUDs, that require a doctor’s care and come with a significant upfront cost.
If you’re well off, you can afford whatever kind of contraception you like, whether your insurance company reimburses for it or not. And abortion restrictions don’t impose much of a burden on you, either. The federal government bans Medicaid from paying for abortions, but that affects only poor women.
A law mandating a 48-hour waiting period before getting an abortion may inconvenience a wealthy woman, but it can make it all but impossible for a woman without means. In some states, it means taking time off work to travel to one of the state’s few abortion clinics, driving hundreds of miles and paying for a hotel room.
While the candidates are going to use buzzwords like “access” and “choice,” the net effect of the policies they are advocating would be to make birth control less available to women.
Paul Waldman is a contributing editor for The American Prospect.