Politics & Policy

Yes to Over-the-Counter Birth Control

(Barbara Johnson/Dreamstime)

George Stephanopoulos finally got his way: Republicans are talking about birth control this campaign season. But they’re running, appropriately, to get government out of the birth-control business as much as possible, and to free up access to it for the women who want it.

Senate nominees Cory Gardner (Colorado), Ed Gillespie (Virginia), Mike McFadden (Minnesota), and Thom Tillis (North Carolina), in addition to some Republican House candidates, are calling for the Food and Drug Administration to reclassify a number of hormonal contraceptives as over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, making them accessible without a prescription. They’re not the first Republicans to call for deregulating the market: Former HHS and state health official and governor Bobby Jindal (Louisiana) endorsed the idea in 2012.

Hormonal birth control has been around for a long time, and while it has some dangers, they aren’t going to be addressed by hauling women in for a perfunctory, often uninformative doctor’s visit. Over-the-counter availability is a market-based approach to medicine, and it drives down the cost of drugs substantially. The pro-life movement has had some unease about birth control as evidence has appeared that it can, in some instances, destroy an embryo, ending a human life. But requiring a prescription is no way to address that concern.

The Left’s response to this political development continues its cynical treatment of this issue. Liberal-leaning doctors’ groups and abortion advocates such as Planned Parenthood supported proposals like the ones Republicans are touting now . . . until Republicans started touting them. They haven’t backed off the idea altogether, but they have complained that this is far from a sufficient approach to birth-control access.

Why? Because Republicans still oppose the president’s HHS contraceptive mandate. And they’ll continue to do so, because it violates religious liberty. It also does more than just force individuals — priests, nuns, Catholic administrators — to engage in providing something against their conscience. It is just one part of a larger effort to yoke the institutions these people run to the aims of the state, regulating civil society out of existence.

The contraceptive mandate was, like a lot of taxpayer-funded contraception programs, a political maneuver masking as a public-health intervention. Birth-control access is, broadly speaking, not a major problem in America, and “access” is often not about cost. Birth control is already cheap, and could become cheaper if more of it were available over the counter. (With co-pays banned by the HHS mandate, in fact, the cost of new contraceptives may rise.) The cost and inconvenience of repeated doctor’s visits can also be a real burden for many women, and one that only OTC birth control can solve. Meanwhile, of course, the mandate did nothing for uninsured women.

Democrats are not resisting the GOP’s suggestion because of any quibbles with its policy substance. They hem and haw because they want to continue to depict Republicans as intent on keeping contraceptives away from women. It is a cherished slander, and if their conduct on the campaign trail is any indication, it is one Democrats will not easily give up even as it becomes yet more risible.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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