Washington – To counter Democratic attacks that they are soldiers in a “war against women,” some GOP candidates across the nation, including at least two in Connecticut, are advocating changing federal laws to allow the purchase of over-the-counter birth control pills.
“I support all women having access to contraception, and believe it should be sold over-the-counter for women to decide for themselves if and when they want it,” said Dan Debicella, a Shelton Republican running against Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, in a statement after the Supreme Court’s June Hobby Lobby decision.
The Hobby Lobby decision, the result of a case brought against the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that health insurance policies include coverage of birth control, was a victory for conservatives that argued businesses with moral objections to birth control, like Hobby Lobby, should not have to pay for contraceptive coverage for employees.
But Democrats pounced on Republicans who supported the decision as waging a “war on women.” That has led to a GOP trend in the advocacy of allowing birth control pills to be purchased without a doctor’s prescription.
“Access should not depend on insurance or any business owner’s philosophy,” Debicella said.
Last week, Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who is challenging incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, released a television ad in which he tells a room full of nodding women, “I believe the pill ought to be available over the counter, around the clock, without a prescription. Cheaper and easier for you.”
Other Republicans in tight races, including Ed Gillespie, a Republican running for Senate in Virginia, and Mike McFadden, who is challenging Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., are running similar ads.
Lori Hopkins-Cavanagh, a Republican who is challenging Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, has also joined the GOP chorus.
“We know the pill is safe and we know it works; so, why aren’t women free to purchase it over the counter like Tylenol or Advil?” Hopkins-Cavanagh asked in a recent statement.
She went further to say the oversight is due to the “limited representation women have in Congress, especially Republican women, who make up less than five percent of the House of Representatives.”
The women’s vote is expected to be key in Nov. 4 mid-term elections.
According to Gallup exit polling, President Obama won the two-party vote among female voters in the 2012 election by 12 points, 56 percent to 44 percent, the largest gender gap in recent history.
Democrats want to keep that advantage.
Peter Wolfgang, president of the Family Institute of Connecticut Action, a conservative organization that supported the Hobby Lobby decision, said support of allowing over- the-counter contraceptive sales would “take a [Democratic] lie off the table.”
“I think I understand what the Republicans are trying to do,” he said. “They are calling the Democrat’s bluff.”
Wolfgang also said the Hobby Lobby decision was not about access to contraceptives, but about religious freedoms. He said his organization would not object to a policy that allowed birth control to be sold without a doctor’s prescription because contraceptive use is already high in the United States and allowing over the counter sales would have little impact.
Studies show that nearly 90 percent of U.S. women have used birth control at some point in their lives.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, through a committee opinion, recommended that birth-control pills be made available over the counter, but did not weigh in on other forms of birth control.
Parenthood Action Fund said it supports any effort to expand access to birth control, including efforts to make some forms of birth control available over-the-counter. But they call the gestures made by Gardner and other Republican candidates who oppose the Affordable Care Act and its birth control mandate “empty gestures.”
“These politicians, including Gardner, who voted repeatedly to repeal the new health care law, have consistently voted to take away the birth control benefit,” Planned Parenthood said in a statement. “That is what makes this empty gesture especially insulting to women.”
Planned Parenthood also says over-the-counter sales, which would allow insurers to drop coverage, would impact lower income women who could not afford to buy birth control on their own.
The organization says cost of birth control pills can be as much as $600 a year, which is out of reach for many women.
Planned Parenthood says national surveys show more than a third of female voters have struggled to afford birth control at some point in their lives, and as a result, have used birth control inconsistently. But in 2013, after implementation of the ACA, Planned Parenthood says contraception has become far more affordable, with 56 percent of women paying out-of-pocket costs for prescription birth control, up from 14 percent in 2012.
Some Republicans have run afoul of the Catholic Church with their position on over-the-counter birth control pill sales. That’s what happened with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal when he proposed the idea.
The The Archdiocese of New Orleans promptly said it disagreed with Jindal’s stance on the issue “as the use of birth control and contraceptives are against Catholic Church teaching.”