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Don't Buy Republicans' Sudden Change of Heart on Birth Control

Four Senate Republican candidates have embraced offering birth control pills as over-the-counter products, rather than requiring prescriptions. The latest two are Thom Tillis in North Carolina, who said he supported the idea in a debate against his opponent Sen. Kay Hagen last week, and Cory Gardner, who ran an ad endorsing it in Colorado. Democrats could count that as a small victory—it’s a sign their attacks are working in the war over women voters. And health advocates could take it as a sign that even conservatives are ceding some ground to make birth control more widely available. So why has Planned Parenthood condemned the candidates’ moves as “empty gestures” and “desperate”?

For some time, some doctors and reproductive health advocates have argued that an over-the-counter pill is good policy, because it would make the pill easily accessible to more women. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists endorsed it in 2012, and so do two-thirds of American women polled.

But there’s a catch. Doctors aren’t the only hurdle between women and contraceptive access. For low-income women, cost can be what’s most prohibitive. Under the Affordable Care Act, the pill and other forms of contraception count as preventative care, which means insurance covers them completely—without any out-of-pocket expenses. This is not a position the Republicans have endorsed. On the contrary, none of the candidates have changed their position on the law more broadly, including their opposition to the mandate covering preventative care like birth control, writes Paul Waldman at the Washington Post. They still want to transfer the costs for other forms of contraceptives, like IUDs and the morning-after-pill, to women directly. (And some—IUDs in particular—can be very expensive.) 

On Tuesday, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said that, while supportive of over-the-counter contraceptives, they are not necessarily supportive of the candidates' proposals. "Over-the-counter access should not be used as a political tool by candidates or by elected officials," ACOG President John C. Jennings, M.D., said in a statement. “Of course, cost continues to be a major factor in a woman’s consistent use of contraception, and many women simply cannot afford the out-of-pocket costs associated with contraceptives, OTC or not." ACOG points to IUDs as the more effective birth control option, and supports Obamacare's provisions mandating coverage of both.

Given all of the disclaimers, which don’t make their way into campaign speeches, there is very little about the Republican change in rhetoric that’s surprising. GOP candidates—especially in races opposing a Democratic woman—are trying all kinds of strategies to reach out to women, no matter how silly or empty they sound. One of my favorite recent examples of comes from another Senate candidate, Scott Brown in New Hampshire, who has taken to handing out plaques to any woman who will support him. Maybe the GOP can try for more substance next time.

—Rebecca Leber

News from yesterday

RAY RICE: TMZ published new security video of the highly publicized domestic violence incident from February, only this footage didn't just show the aftermath. It showed Rice striking his (then) fiancé. The Baltimore Ravens quickly announced they were terminating his contract, while the NFL announced it was suspending him indefinitely. But lots of questioned remained. Had Ravens or NFL officials seen the video previously? If so, why didn’t they impose such penalties in the first place? and Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun summarize the news. Greg Bedard at Sports Illustrated and Jane McManus at ESPN offer commentary.Barry Petchesky at Deadspin sifts through the conflicting accounts of who had seen the video. At QED, Jonathan Cohn says the video reminds everybody that domestic violence is … violent.

ENTEROVIRUS: A virus that causes severe respiratory problems has now spread to at least ten states, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. It’s sent dozens of children to the hospital and it’s likely to keep spreading. (Nancy Shute, NPR)

ECONOMY: The Federal Reserve will require large banks to hold more capital than their international counterparts, a move intended to provide greater cushion to potential losses. (Victoria McGrane and Ryan TracyWall Street Journal

FERGUSON: The Ferguson City Council announced a number of changes to its court system and created a new citizen review board for the police department. Among other changes, the Council capped the amount of revenue that the city can receive from fines. (Frances RoblesNew York Times)

Stories worth reading

Scariest fact of the day: Sarah Kliff cites a survey suggesting 51.8 percent of women report experiencing some form of domestic violence in their lifetimes. (Vox) 

The long game on immigration: Greg Sargent reminds everybody that Republicans have their own political problems with the issue, and they get worse in 2016. (The Plum Line)

Young and still kinda invincible: The under-26 crowd has insurance thanks to Obamacare. That doesn't mean they're seeking medical care. Jason Millman explains. (Wonkblog)

Climate’s best legal defense: Two climate activists facing charges for civil disobedience that could have landed them in prison found the charges reduced. The surprising part was when a Massachusetts District Attorney cited the urgency of climate change action as the reason why. (Brad Wieners, Businessweek)

Stories we’ll be watching:

The Ray Rice story may keep generating news.


It’s the end of the border crisis as we know it. Danny Vinik breaks down the new, encouraging numbers from the Department of Homeland Security. And what about all those new “narrow network” insurance plans, the ones that limit you to small groups of doctors? Are they bad for you? Maybe not, according to a new study. Jonathan explains.

This article has been updated to include a statement from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.