As we enter the election season, some GOP candidates are changing the way they talk about reproductive health care – namely, contraceptives. Several anti-abortion candidates are now including support for over-the-counter contraceptives in their campaigns. These candidates say that they, like their opponents, understand the importance of contraceptive access and affordability. Last week, NPR released a story discussing this change in approach and the subsequent responses.
Four GOP Senate candidates have positioned themselves as advocates for OTC birth control: Colorado’s Cory Gardner, North Carolina’s Thom Tillis, Virginia’s Ed Gillespie, and Minnesota’s Mike McFadden. Senator Cory Gardner says that he is invested in making contraceptives more available and more affordable. He also insists that he's not interested in playing politics with women's health care. The three other candidates are making similar claims. In his first debate against his opponent, Senator Kay Hagan, Tillis stated that oral contraception should be more accessible: “I actually agree with the American Medical Association that we should make contraception more widely available. I think over-the-counter oral contraception should be available without prescription.”
Advocating for increased access to contraceptives is an interesting shift for these particular candidates, all of whom have, in other instances, taken anti-abortion stances by supporting fetal personhood bills and increased restrictions on abortions. It’s no secret that conservative politicians have not been faring well with women voters. Traction with this particular voting bloc has been damaged not only by the “war on women,” but also statements by individual representatives that have been alienating to women.
Some liberal groups have responded to these campaigns by pointing to the candidates’ not-so-stellar records on reproductive health care. Others have pointed to the cost involved in purchasing birth control over-the-counter. The candidates in question all suggest that OTC birth control would make contraceptives more affordable; however, because most insurance companies don’t cover OTC medication, a woman’s birth control costs could reach $600 a year.
While discussing OTC birth control may be new for these particular candidates, it's an idea that has been in circulation for a while. Planned Parenthood and other reproductive rights organizations have advocated for OTC birth control in the past. So far, no drug companies have approached the FDA for permission to sell birth control pills over-the-counter.