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Elections & Politics

The Truth About Over-the-Counter Access to Birth Control

Contact: Planned Parenthood Action Fund Media Office, 212-261-4433

For Immediate Release: 09.02.14

TO: Interested Parties
DATE: Tuesday, September 2, 2014
RE: The Truth About Over-the-Counter Access to Birth Control

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As part of their larger effort to muddy the waters around their unpopular positions on women’s healthand birth control, some politicians, including Cory Gardner in Colorado, are proposing to move select forms of birth control over-the-counter. Planned Parenthood Action Fund supports any effort to expand access to birth control, including efforts to make some forms of birth control available over-the-counter (OTC).  At the same time, it is important that voters know the truth about these claims by politicians running for office:  they are empty gestures.

These politicians, including Gardner, who voted repeatedly to repeal the new health care law, have consistently voted to take away the birth control benefit. That is what makes this empty gesture especially insulting to women. Meanwhile, women's health champions like Mark Udall fought for those benefits.

"If Cory Gardner and others were serious about expanding access to birth control, they wouldn’t be trying to repeal the no-copay birth control benefit, reduce Title X funding for birth control, or cut women off from Planned Parenthood’s preventive health services.  This is simply a cynical political attempt to whitewash his terrible record and agenda for women's health. The reality is that Cory Gardner’s proposal would actually cost women more by forcing them to pay out of pocket for the birth control that they are getting now at no cost thanks to the ACA. We would welcome a sincere conversation about expanding birth control access for women - sadly Cory Gardner has not offered one," said Dawn Laguens, Executive Vice President, Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

As Vicki Cowart, president of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains has said, Gardner’s policy position “masquerades as a solution, but it is not one.” Indeed, these proposals ignore the fact that birth control is not “one size fits all” (read: many women do not use the pill and some of the most effective methods, including the IUD, need to be inserted by a trained health care provider). That is why the nonpartisan Institute of Medicine recommended that the Affordable Care Act require all insurance companies to cover the full-range of FDA-approved contraceptive methods without a copay under the preventive services benefit. Not to mention, Gardner’s policy would once again force women to go back to the days when they paid out of pocket for birth control — which can cost upwards of $600 a year (equal to nine tanks of gas in a minivan).

It’s no wonder candidates like Cory Gardner are trying to muddy the waters: 57 percent of women voters say they would be more likely to support a candidate who opposes allowing employers like Hobby Lobby to refuse to cover birth control.  American women saved $483 million over the past year alone thanks to the birth control benefit, which is already available to more than 48 million women nationwide.

Katy Atkinson, a Republican political consultant in Denver, summed it up best: “He doesn’t have to convince them he’s the No. 1, best person on” reproductive rights, she said. “He just has to muddy it up enough to take it away from Udall.”

Read a smart analysis of Bobby Jindal’s similar message strategy here and about a Colorado study showing that Colorado’s teen birth rate plummeted 40 percent between 2009 and 2013 thanks to investments in family planning and increased use of IUDs (the very method that Cory Gardner and the bosses at Hobby Lobby object to) here.

It is also important to note that while leading women’s health experts agree that some forms of birth control should be made available OTC, there is not a single manufacturer that has submitted an application to the FDA to do so.

Copied below are the facts you need to know about proposals like Cory Gardner’s to make birth control available over the counter. If you are interested in speaking with a Planned Parenthood Action Fund spokesperson, please contact the media office at 212-261-4433.

  • Opponents of women’s health are proposing to move birth control over-the-counter as a part of their larger effort to take away insurance coverage for birth control — forcing women to pay out-of-pocket instead of keeping the coverage they have today.
    • The same politicians who have voted consistently — and unsuccessfully — to take that benefit away are now proposing to move select forms of birth control over-the-counter in a cynical attempt to mask their larger efforts. 
    • Of course, any sincere effort to expand access to birth control is welcome by health care advocates and providers, but women should not have to trade affordable access to all forms of birth control in order to have improved access to some forms of birth control.
  • The most effective forms of birth control would still require insurance coverage and cannot be provided OTC.
    •  The increase in prescription birth control use does not take into account how many women have newly accessed other forms of contraception, such as IUDs — which are covered at no copay under the women’s preventive benefit.  IUDs cannot be approved OTC because they require insertion by a trained health care provider.
    • Likewise, it is important to note that birth control formulations vary considerably and that the forms of birth control most likely to become available OTC may not be the best option for any given individual woman.
  • Because of high out-of-pocket costs, American women still need the birth control benefit, even if we approve some forms of birth control over-the-counter.   
    • Although birth control OTC would make some forms of contraception more readily available to women, women would likely face additional cost barriers since health plans generally do not cover OTC products without a prescription. 
    • In 2013, 56 percent of women paid no out-of-pocket costs for prescription birth control, up from 14 percent in 2012.
    • Studies show that the out-of-pocket costs related to birth control are a major barrier to access. 
      • According to a national survey, more than a third of female voters have struggled to afford birth control at some point in their lives, and as a result, have used birth control inconsistently. Furthermore, 55 percent of women 18-34 report having struggled with the cost of birth control at some point in their lives.
    • Prescriptions for birth control increased more than 4 percent in the first year after the birth control benefit went into effect — a clear demonstration of how important it is to remove cost barriers — and of how critical this benefit is to women.

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Planned Parenthood Action Fund is an independent, nonpartisan, not-for-profit membership organization formed as the advocacy and political arm of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The Action Fund engages in educational and electoral activity, including voter education, grassroots organizing, and legislative advocacy.