The three big problems with the Republican ‘over the counter’ contraception pitch
In the top election campaigns in Colorado, the issue of women’s reproductive rights has been front and center for half a year, and it’s not moving away from center-stage any time soon.
The Republicans candidates running in the three tight races being watched around the country are battling to make up ground with women voters, who in large percentages have supported Democrats in recent Colorado elections. The lopsided preference underlines the fact that Colorado is a solidly pro-choice state. Voters and lawmakers for years here have turned back hardline anti-abortion proposals at the ballot box and in the legislature. The votes haven’t been close.
So Congressman Cory Gardner, who is running for the U.S. Senate, and Mike Coffman, who is running for re-election in congressional District 6, have pushed back against attacks on their anti-abortion voting records by saying they will champion a plan in Washington to make birth control available over the counter.
They point to the plan as evidence that they’re not “anti-contraception,” as their Democratic opponents have argued. On the contrary, they say, we’re looking to increase access to contraception.
“My plan means more rights, more freedom and more control for you,” says Gardner in his ad on the topic.
But here are the three big problems with the over-the-counter “plan” the candidates are promoting and the reason why many observers are calling it mere election-year gamesmanship — or in the words of Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, a “very cynical ploy.” The first two problems are practical. The last is political.
First: As many outlets have been reporting, including policy blog Health Affairs, even if Gardner and Coffman are elected, they won’t be able to make the Pill available over the counter. More than that, they wouldn’t even have the power to propose a law that can make the Pill available over the counter. Gardner’s plan is not a plan. It’s a non-plan.
It’s the Food and Drug Administration that decides which drugs to make available over the counter. Staffers there weigh proposals submitted not by lawmakers but by drug companies. The FDA FDA is tasked with evaluating the safety and efficacy of the pill, a lengthy and expensive process. And each variety of birth control pill would have to be approved separately. The idea that Gardner will go to the Senate next year and do something there that will make your pill available to you over the counter any time soon is not possible.
Second: Making drugs available over the counter will make them more expensive. That works to limit access not increase it. Birth control is expensive, roughly $500 a year. Many have reported this fact, but it bears repeating: Right now prescription birth control is covered by insurance — and covered 100 percent due to Obamacare. Over the counter drugs aren’t covered by insurance.
Third: This pitch is risky. It’s not likely to win over many Democratic voters, and it is turning off a strong Republican constituency. As National Journal reports today:
“Republicans have historically had an uncanny knack for doing whatever it takes to lose their numbers in the polls; this would be the latest,” said Connie Mackie, president of the Family Research Council Action Pact. “It’s a political strategy. They should stop shopping around for things that appeal to liberals and stick to their core beliefs of life, courage, religious liberty, defense, and economic reform…. [But] they get these political advisers or contractors that come in and give the wrong advice.”
A main target for this kind of ire is now Cory Gardner. He has waffled on his long support for personhood, which would grant fertilized eggs full legal rights and so outlaw abortion without exception — even when an ectopic pregnancy that has no chance of coming to term threatens the life of the mother. Gardner has said he won’t support this year’s “Brady Bill” ballot initiative — a state personhood proposal — even while he continues on as a co-sponsor of a federal personhood bill that would have the same effect as the Brady Bill nationwide.
Again, National Journal:
“[Gardner has] flip-flopped on issues and turned his back on the base that elected him,” Mason said. “He’s certainly not winning Democratic votes, and he’s alienating Republicans. It’s puzzling to us and politically stupid.”
Gardner’s opponent Udall has churned out ads at a regular pace attacking Gardner on women’s health. He is likely to shine as much light as possible through the holes that riddle the “over-the-counter” plan in the weeks between now and November.