Everyone’s been talking about over-the-counter birth control lately. Several Republican candidates have recently come out in favor of the policy as a method of expanding women’s access to contraception, leading Democratic groups to accuse them of merely paying lip service to reproductive health to win over female voters. Now, the nation’s leading group of women’s health care professionals is weighing in.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the advocacy arm of the largest group of OB-GYNs in the country, is warning political candidates against endorsing this particular birth policy without advocating for other important methods of protecting women’s health, like supporting Obamacare. In a statement released this week, the group reiterates its position on over-the-counter (OTC) birth control, but emphasizes that it shouldn’t be used as a “political tool.”
“OTC availability of oral contraceptives will help more women get the contraceptives they need, which have long been proven safe enough to use without a prescription — especially emergency contraception,” the statement reads. “We feel strongly, however, that OTC access to contraceptives should be part of a broader dialogue about improving women’s health care, preventing unintended pregnancies, and increasing use of contraception, including long-acting reversible contraception (LARC). Over-the-counter access should not be used as a political tool by candidates or by elected officials.”
The statement comes just a week after North Carolina Senate candidate Thom Tillis (R) invoked ACOG’s position on OTC birth control during a political debate. “I think over-the-counter oral contraception should be available without a prescription,” Tillis said, noting that will help “reduce the barriers” to contraception. He was the fourth Republican contender to come out in favor of the policy this campaign season.
But ACOG’s statement points out that prescriptions aren’t the only barrier currently standing between women and their birth control. Cost is another major factor, and many women simply can’t afford birth control pills regardless of whether they’re available OTC. Plus, the most effective forms of contraception, like intrauterine devices, will always require a trip to the doctor’s office. Those are the two issues at play in the current controversy over the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision, which allowed some for-profit companies to eliminate insurance coverage for expensive forms of long-lasting birth control like IUDs.
“ACOG strongly supports the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provision that mandates insurance coverage of birth control, as well as other preventive services, without cost-sharing for the patient,” the doctors’ group explains. “Recent political discussions on the importance of OTC access to contraceptives are welcome, but ACOG remains firmly in support of comprehensive strategies to increase adoption of more-effective methods and to provide all women with the contraceptives they need at no cost.”
ACOG’s new statement echoes Planned Parenthood’s recent response to the current conversation about OTC birth control. In a memo entitled “The Truth About Over-The-Counter Access To Birth Control” released last week, the national women’s health organization notes that these GOP candidates “voted repeatedly to repeal the new health care law” and “have consistently voted to take away the birth control benefit.”