Although many Republican candidates campaigned on making birth control available over the counter without a prescription, it’s unlikely that the GOP will make that issue a priority in the new Congress.
The Washington Times reports that the over-the-counter birth control proposal has been “markedly absent” from plans congressional leaders have laid out for the new session in the soon-to-be GOP-controlled U.S. Senate.
In many key midterm races, pushing for over-the-counter birth control was a tactic Republicans deployed to downplay their anti-choice views and distract from Democrats’ “war on women” narratives that centered on Republicans’ opposition to affordable access to birth control.
Mitch McConnell and John Boehner have both made public statements about repealing all or part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as Rewire has reported. A full repeal would deny 48 million women access to contraceptive services at no additional cost beyond their insurance premiums.
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While McConnell was happy to go into specifics on which parts of the ACA to repeal—the individual mandate, the medical device tax, and the 30-hour workweek—he hasn’t yet spoken publicly about plans to make birth control more accessible or affordable.
Congress has little to no power to make over-the-counter birth control a reality. Only the Food and Drug Administration can decide to make certain forms of contraception legal to sell without a prescription.
McConnell introduced a bill this year that merely “requests that the Food and Drug Administration study whether prescription contraceptives could be made available safely to adults without a prescription.”
That’s about as much as Congress can do on the issue, and the bill hasn’t gotten traction so far. A McConnell spokesperson told the Times that the likely future majority leader hasn’t laid out concrete plans to move it forward.
Cory Gardner, who won his Senate race in Colorado and unseated Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, came out in favor of over-the-counter birth control, even though a “personhood” amendment he supported would likely outlaw many forms of contraception.
Thom Tillis, who unseated pro-choice advocate Kay Hagan in North Carolina, also publicly supported over-the-counter birth control, which the Charlotte Observer called “quite a turnaround” given his record of support for extreme anti-choice legislation.
Gardner, Tillis, and other Republican candidates approved of the Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby to allow religious owners of for-profit companies to refuse their employees insurance coverage of contraception.
Leaders of the GOP’s religious right expressed their concern and displeasure as Republican candidates supported over-the-counter birth control access. Connie Mackie, president of the right-wing Family Research Council Action Pact, urged GOP candidates to “stop shopping around for things that appeal to liberals” and instead focus on the party’s base, during an interview with National Journal.
Anti-choice extremists and “personhood” advocates have criticized the over-the-counter proposals as dangerous and irresponsible of the GOP, as they claim—despite mountains of evidence to the contrary—that birth control usage leads to serious health complications.