For years, Democrats have argued that birth control pills should be available over-the-counter (OTC). And while 12 states and Washington, DC have passed laws allowing pharmacists to dispense birth control pills without a doctor’s prescription, women living in a majority of US states must visit a doctor to obtain birth control.
Advocates insist this requirement represents yet another obstacle that discourages women from obtaining what they consider a necessary medication.
Last week, progressive lawmaker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) tweeted:
“Psst! Birth control should be over-the-counter, pass it on.”
Her message prompted an unexpected response from GOP Senator Ted Cruz (TX), who is already working with AOC on a bill that would ban former Congressmen from lobbying.
“I agree,” tweeted Cruz. “Perhaps…we can team up here as well. A simple, clean bill making birth control available over the counter.”
Cruz’s response is surprising given his hardline stance on abortion. Cruz, a Baptist, wants to cut funding to Planned Parenthood and believes abortion should be legal only when the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life.
His coalition “Pro-Lifers for Cruz” is chaired by an activist who once said the government should execute abortion doctors.
Here’s the catch: if birth control is approved for OTC use, it could give insurance companies the opportunity to stop covering it and allow employers to escape the controversial coverage requirements in the Affordable Care Act.
Putting birth control on the shelves is also likely to drive up the price, making it less accessible.
“You cannot have real access if you can’t afford it,” says Senator Patty Murray (D-WA).
Suspecting the Republican motive, Murray and a handful of Democrats introduced a bill that would require all private insurance plans to cover birth control without cost-sharing even if the FDA approves birth control pills for OTC use. The bill was introduced in both chambers, but has little chance of passing the Senate.
“This is an opportunity for Republicans to join us,” says Murray. “I’m hoping they do, but I’m also a realist and know that they likely won’t.”
The renewed birth control argument comes at a time when Republicans are trying desperately to push Roe v. Wade back to the Supreme Court.
Seven states this year have passed “heartbeat bills” banning abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. Alabama’s bill is the most severe, banning abortions at any stage and making no exceptions for rape or incest. Under the bill, doctors caught performing abortions will receive a sentence of up to 99 years in prison.
GOP lawmakers know these bills will never make it through court, but that’s not the point.
“The bill is about challenging Roe v. Wade and protecting the lives of the unborn because an unborn baby is a person who deserves love and protection,” says Alabama State Rep. Terri Collins.