The country's leading group of physicians providing reproductive health care chastised Republican U.S. Senate candidates for supporting over-the-counter birth control access but not other policies that would make contraception more widely accessible and affordable.
In a Tuesday statement, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists President John C. Jennings said Republican Senate hopefuls such as Colorado Rep. Cory Gardner (Colo.) and North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis shouldn't use such birth control proposals "as a political tool," though his group agrees that birth control should be made available over the counter. The Food and Drug Administration does not allow birth control to be sold without a doctor's prescription.
"OTC availability of oral contraceptives will help more women get the contraceptives they need, which have long been proven safe enough to use without a prescription -- especially emergency contraception," Jennings said. "We feel strongly, however, that OTC access to contraceptives should be part of a broader dialogue about improving women's health care, preventing unintended pregnancies, and increasing use of contraception, including long-acting reversible contraception (LARC). Over-the-counter access should not be used as a political tool by candidates or by elected officials."
At a debate with Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) last week, Tillis repeatedly invoked ACOG's position on birth control access to insist that he isn't, as Democrats have suggested, against contraceptive access. Tillis' comments followed Gardner's June op-ed that said birth control should be available for purchase without a prescription.
Three other GOP Senate candidates -- Mike McFadden in Minnesota, Ed Gillespie in Virginia and Rob Maness in Louisiana -- have also embraced making birth control available over the counter.
ACOG's statement implied that the Republican candidates' positions aren't comprehensive, saying that such a stance must also include support for the Affordable Care Act, which mandated that contraception be covered without a co-pay.
"Of course, cost continues to be a major factor in a woman's consistent use of contraception, and many women simply cannot afford the out-of-pocket costs associated with contraceptives, OTC or not," the group's statement explained. "That's why ACOG strongly supports the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provision that mandates insurance coverage of birth control, as well as other preventive services, without cost-sharing for the patient."
Candidates such as Tillis and Gardner have said they support the Supreme Court's decision in the Hobby Lobby case, which ruled that corporations could opt out of covering contraceptives in their employees' health care plans over religious or moral objections.
On a related matter, Gardner has disavowed his previous support for "personhood" legislation, which would give legal rights to fertilized eggs, though he is still a co-sponsor of the federal Life Begins at Conception Act. ACOG says such legislation could ban common forms of birth control, such as the intrauterine device. Tillis has said he supports personhood legislation.
ACOG's statement noted that a proposal supporting over-the-counter oral contraceptive access wouldn't increase access to IUDs, which some conservatives consider abortion-inducing but Jennings said are "more effective than oral contraceptives."
Planned Parenthood said last week that over-the-counter proposals by the Republican Senate candidates are an "empty gesture."