Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (R) managed on Friday to do what the rest of his party has been unable to: Listen to public opinion. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed published in Friday’s paper, Jindal advocates for over-the-counter access to birth control, as an “end of birth-control politics.”
The article, prompted by new guidelines on birth control distribution from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, comes as a surprise from the rabidly anti-abortion Jindal. But it makes sense from a governor who is widely expected to throw his hat into the ring for the 2016 presidential election.
Over-the-counter access to birth control is actually an area where free-market conservatives and pro-choice liberals can agree. Jindal’s argument smacks of conservative ideology, but his logic is respectful of those who believe in a sex-positive, equal access approach to family planning:
Let’s ask the question: Why do women have to go see a doctor before they buy birth control? There are two answers. First, because big government says they should, even though requiring a doctor visit to get a drug that research shows is safe helps drive up health-care costs. Second, because big pharmaceutical companies benefit from it. They know that prices would be driven down if the companies had to compete in the marketplace once their contraceptives were sold over the counter.
So at present we have an odd situation. Thanks to President Obama and the pro-choice lobby, women can buy the morning-after pill over the counter without a prescription, but women cannot buy oral contraceptives over the counter unless they have a prescription. Contraception is a personal matter—the government shouldn’t be in the business of banning it or requiring a woman’s employer to keep tabs on her use of it. If an insurance company or those purchasing insurance want to cover birth control, they should be free to do so. If a consumer wants to buy birth control on her own, she should be free to do so.
Jindal clearly learned some lessons from Mitt Romney’s campaign. Polls show that voters — particularly women — were quick to reject Romney because of his threat he represented to women’s access to the health care they need. So, while this op-ed is rooted in conservative ideology, it simultaneously recognizes that popular opinion in support of easier access to birth control spans across the political spectrum. In fact, studies suggest that providing wider access to affordable birth control, particularly through policies like the Obamacare mandate requiring insurers to provide all birth control methods copay-free, can drastically lower the number of abortions.
If Jindal is truly dedicated to providing women the most effective and affordable methods of birth control, however, he will need to look beyond oral contraceptives. Thanks to Obama’s mandate, IUDs — by far the best method for preventing pregnancy — are now available to a woman at no cost to her. Jindal has offered no similar path to those contraceptive methods by way of the private sector.