Republican senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and a slew of other Republican senators introduced the “Preserving Religious Freedom and a Woman’s Access to Contraception Act” to the Committee on Finance this past July. The new legislation proposed by Ayotte would allow women to buy birth control pills over the counter without a prescription. The Republican senator’s legislation is problematic because insurance companies are not obligated to pay for over-the-counter drugs. Unless the Republican bill to legitimize prescription-free contraception is paired with a bill that forces insurance companies to cover over-the-counter medications, women’s accessibility to contraceptives will be stifled.
The biggest let down about the Republican legislative proposal is that it will only urge the FDA to study over-the-counter sales. It is not an effective policy that will be implemented immediately. Instead, if passed, it will take years for the FDA to run scientific evaluations of oral contraceptives’ safety and efficiency and before allowing contraceptives to be sold over-the-counter.
Opposers of the legislation argue that it is merely a reaction to Democratic claims of the GOP’s “War on Women” and is just a tactic to entice women voters. The proposal is an unexpected move by the Republican Party because of the GOP’s tendency to reject similar legislation.
As previously noted, the idea of offering birth control pills over-the-counter is not a new idea. It is a simple and obvious idea, and many developing countries have allowed the sale of over-the-counter birth control pills. The result of over-the-counter birth control pills in these countries is one anyone would expect: lower rates of undesired pregnancies and higher accessibility to contraceptives.
Adversaries of the proposal argue that allowing birth control pills to be purchased without a prescription will actually raise the cost of contraceptives for women, specifically uninsured lower-class women.
According to Paul Waldman, a writer for the Washington Post, uninsured women would pay $600 a year for over-the-counter birth control pills. Interestingly, the Obamacare plan would not cover the cost of over-the-counter medications, which do not qualify for Obamacare’s zero-out-of-pocket policy.
The affordability of birth control pills is a huge obstacle that many lower and middle-class women face. While there may be other obstacles such as which pill to take or how women will get advice from their doctor, none are as stifling as the price tag attached to a woman’s health care. Once this obstacle is defeated, then perhaps all the other details can be addressed.