Republicans in Congress are not known for their efforts to expand access to birth control, but on Thursday they introduced a bill that they claim would do just that.
Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) introduced legislation that aims to encourage pharmaceutical manufacturers to take the necessary steps to allow "routine-use contraceptives" -- like the pill -- to be sold over the counter. Essentially, the companies need to obtain permission from the Food and Drug Administration. The proposed Allowing Greater Access to Safe and Effective Contraception Act would waive the FDA filing fee for such applications and put them at the top of the agency's priority list.
“It’s time to allow women the ability to make their own decisions about safe, effective, and long-established methods of contraception,” Gardner said in a statement. “Most other drugs with such a long history of safe and routine use are available for purchase over the counter, and contraception should join them.”
But the proposal also represents a GOP end run around the Affordable Care Act provision that requires most employers to cover the full range of contraception at no cost to women. Republicans have long opposed and even pledged to repeal that rule because they claim it violates the religious freedom rights of employers who are morally opposed to birth control.
The mandatory contraception coverage under Obamacare applies only to birth control that requires a prescription. So if this bill resulted in various forms of routine-use contraception being sold over the counter, they would not have to be covered by insurance.
Women's health advocates balked on Thursday, arguing that the proposed legislation would force women to pay out of pocket for birth control and effectively limit their options. Birth control can cost women up to $600 a year, according to Planned Parenthood.
“Planned Parenthood supports expanding access to birth control, which means making it available over-the-counter and also requiring it to be covered by insurance, so that it is affordable for all women," said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. "The politicians who introduced this sham bill have repeatedly voted to take away insurance coverage and deny women access to birth control. They aren’t interested in expanding women’s access to birth control, and their bill would actually restrict women’s choices and cost women more money.”
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a non-profit organization of women's health doctors, said it opposes the Republicans' birth control bill.
“The Affordable Care Act removed many barriers to preventive care that keeps women healthy," said ACOG President Mark S. DeFrancesco, M.D., in a statement. "By making contraceptives available to women without a co-pay, it has truly increased access to contraception, thereby decreasing unintended pregnancies, and allowing women to better plan their futures. Unfortunately, instead of improving access, this bill would actually make more women have to pay for their birth control, and for some women, the cost would be prohibitive."
“As women’s health care providers, we welcome robust and productive dialogue about the indisputable role that contraceptives play in the health, well-being, and productivity of American women. We would welcome any legislation that would do what this proposal purports to do – help women. As it stands, however, we cannot support a plan that creates one route to access at the expense of another, more helpful route,” he said.
This story has been updated with a statement from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
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