It’s 2017, and by now, numerous studies have revealed the safety of the birth control pill. As Gerald Joseph, a vice president at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, noted three years ago, “although no drug is perfectly safe — even aspirin has its side effects — oral contraceptives are … safe.” Naturally, this has heeded a rise in calls to make the pill available over the counter in recent years.
After all, many reproductive rights advocates have noted how this would serve to help destigmatize reproductive healthcare, and there is speculation that pushes for the pill over the counter could become more successful in 2017 since, surprisingly enough, legislative efforts have become bipartisan. For instance, Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Republican, pitched over the counter birth control as the ultimate means to make contraception more accessible to American women last month on Washington Post Live, and yes, your gut instinct telling you there must be a catch to Republican lawmakers supporting women’s rights is, indeed, accurate.
The catch is that Cassidy, who has a record of voting to defund Planned Parenthood, like President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Health and Human Services secretary and the vast majority of other conservative lawmakers, strongly opposes Obamacare (through which 67 percent of insured women receive birth control for free due to its contraceptive mandate), and, again, funding for Planned Parenthood (through which 80 percent of its millions of nationwide patients are able to access contraception.)
Price himself previously asked to be shown “one woman” who couldn’t afford birth control, which will become a frankly easy task if/when the ACA is dismantled and funding for Planned Parenthood is slashed. But what Price was really suggesting at the time is that women can afford birth control, so government funding for family planning should be no more. His comments didn’t necessarily speak to his views of over the counter birth control, but like Cassidy’s, insinuate that as long as birth control can conveniently be purchased by more affluent, economically privileged American women, government funding for family planning services is unnecessary.
Basically, in their ideal America, women have to be able to afford to buy their human rights to access them.
You’d think being staunch opponents of a woman’s right to choose, they would support programs that help combat high abortion rates. (Friendly reminder: between the anti-choice Bush administration to the pro-choice Obama administration, expanded access to family planning services dropped the national rate of abortion from 16 abortions for every 1,000 women to 12.) But they either ignore logic or actively prioritize making everyday women’s lives exponentially more costly and difficult over logic, so alas, here we are.
No one is saying that making birth control available over the counter, in addition to federal funding for family planning services, wouldn’t widen access to the pill; it totally would. But it can’t be used to replace funding for Planned Parenthood or the contraceptive mandate on employers and healthcare providers through the Affordable Care Act, and just about every women’s health expert across the country is likely to vouch for this.
“We’ve heard this argument before. It’s not accurate in the slightest,” Adam Sonfield, senior policy manager at the Guttmacher Institute, told Rewire last month when asked whether making contraception available over the counter would be a suitable alternative to the ACA’s birth control benefit. “Moving oral contraceptives over the counter has a lot of potential benefits, certainly, for some women, but it’s one more tool that we need in the toolshed, not a replacement for all the other tools we have that we need.”
Sonfield continued: “Trying to replace them with just over-the-counter access for oral contraceptives would mean you would be reducing choice of methods, and you’d be increasing the price of methods,” he continued, adding that “both of those things would be major barriers to women’s ability to choose the method of contraception that works best for them at a given point in their life.”
Still, this agenda, which undermines how access to bodily autonomy is a fundamental human right that cannot be contingent on one’s socioeconomic status, is increasingly being pushed by conservative lawmakers, and is something to look out for now that Congress has entered its 115th session as of Tuesday.