Smiling women sit in a circle, cheering. A politician stands in the center, promising improved access to birth control by making the medicine available over the counter. Everything seems typical in the campaign ad during an election cycle where birth control is a contentious issue. But it isn’t. The star of the ad is Congressman Cory Gardner, a Republican candidate in Colorado.
Over-the-counter birth control recently received support from an unlikely source: GOP Senatorial candidates. Along with Gardner, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Ed Gillespie of Virginia, and Mike McFadden of Minnesota began campaigning on the promise to expand access to birth con-trol by making the medicine available over the counter. The candidates join many health organizations that support over the counter birth control, like the American College of Obstericians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.
ACOG released a statement in 2012 supporting the measure, explaining that almost 50% of annual pregnancies in the United States are unintended, and that the associated expenses cost taxpayers $11 billion every year. ACOG argues that making birth control available over the counter would allow more women access and help reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies.
The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health expressed similar sentiments: “Over-the-counter access will greatly reduce the systemic barriers, like poverty, immigration status and language, that currently prevent Latinas from regularly accessing birth control and result in higher rates of unintended pregnancy.”
While birth control pills are not side-effect free, ACOG believes women can go through the trial and error process of finding the best fit for them without the guidance of a doctor. With so much at stake, making birth control available over the counter empowers women to protect themselves against unplanned pregnancy.
Planned Parenthood also recognizes the need to expand access to birth control. As Planned Parenthood’s Vice President of Health Care Innovation Jill Balderston told Think Progress through email, “So many people struggle to balance work, family, school, and taking care of their health. Whether it’s difficulty in getting an appointment, the distance to a health center, or a busy work schedule—Planned Parenthood knows that the more access patients have to a provider, the more they can get the preventive care they need, when they need it.”
But instead of applauding the Republicans’ support of their goals, Planned Parenthood attacked the candidates as being elitist and out of touch. It recently committed $900,000 to opposing Gardner and Tillis. Planned Parenthood is meanwhile rolling out its own pilot program that would allow women in Minnesota and Washington have an online consultation with a doctor and receive birth control in the mail via unmarked packages. Planned Parenthood, Gardner, and Tillis want to address the same problem through different means. Planned Parenthood wants to use technology; the candidates want to empower women to get medicine without a doctor.
By opposing these Republican candidates, Planned Parenthood demonstrates it cares more about party affiliation than ideas. Instead of attacking Cory Gardner and Thom Tillis, Planned Parenthood should applaud them for standing up for women. If we learned anything from the Hobby Lobby protestors, birth control is “not my boss’s business.” It’s sad and yet somehow unsurprising that during this time of high partisan polarization, Planned Parenthood puts politics above solutions