Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) found herself in unusual company after she tweeted her support for over-the-counter access to birth control.
In the United States, access to birth control pills is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Under the current FDA regulations, women must get a prescription from a physician to access hormonal contraceptive pills.
But there have been many calls to change this, including from Ocasio-Cortez. The congresswoman took to Twitter to make the call public.
Psst! 🗣 Birth control should be over-the-counter, pass it on.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) June 7, 2019
What Ocasio-Cortez may not have realized was that members of her own party have been the ones standing in the way of over-the-counter birth control. Here are four things to know about the over-the-counter birth control debate.
Making the pill an over-the-counter drug will make it more accessible.
Today, women seeking contraceptives face several hurdles before they have their pills in hand. Because the FDA requires a prescription for access to birth control, women must visit a physician and pay for the appointment, copay, and higher list-cost of the drug, which places a barrier of both time and money between women and contraceptives.
Many believe this is a good move to make, considering that hormonal contraceptives have been proved to be safe and that access to higher dosage emergency contraceptive pills is already available over the counter.
As the Washington Examiner notes, increased access to birth control has a direct correlation with decreased abortion rates. This detail has encouraged many conservatives to get on board with increasing access to the pill.
Republican senators have been leading the way on increasing accessibility to birth control.
Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) introduced legislation that would force the FDA to fast-track the process to reclassify contraceptives as over-the-counter for women over the age of 18.
In a statement about her bill, Ernst wrote:
By allowing women to purchase birth control over-the-counter and without the requirement of a prescription, we are giving them more options, with fewer delays and without unnecessary hurdles. It’s critical we remove barriers for women in Iowa and across the country to give them the best access to care possible.
As Reason notes, Congress does not have the authority to classify drugs, but this bill would hold the FDA’s feet to the fire. Ernst’s bill would call on the department to “give priority review” of the drug, which would allow the makers of contraceptive pills to request an over-the-counter classification — a move some pharmaceutical companies have already vowed to make.
Republicans are even working to make the pill more affordable.
Beyond pushing the FDA to change the classification, Ernst’s bill would ensure that women can use flexible spending accounts and health savings accounts to pay for their pills — something that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) ended.
The legislation also repeals provisions in current law, under the Affordable Care Act, that affect the use of tax-advantaged savings accounts for health care expenses, such as health savings accounts (HSAs), flexible spending accounts (FSAs), and medical savings accounts (MSAs). In particular, the legislation repeals the ACA’s prohibition on using funds from these accounts to purchase [over-the-counter] medications. It also repeals the $2,500 annual cap on contributions toward these types of accounts imposed by the ACA.
Additionally, the legislation repeals any taxes on contraceptives to make the product as cheap as possible without Uncle Sam taking his cut.
Democrats have been acting as a roadblock.
As Ernst noted, many of the financial roadblocks between women and contraceptives were put up by Democrats who backed the ACA.
Former Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards claimed that Republicans were trying to “push women back to the 1950s” by restricting parts of the ACA to allow over-the-counter access. She claimed women would actually pay more for contraceptives if the classification changed because it may no longer be part of their insurance.
Several people took to Twitter to let Ocasio-Cortez know she was in the minority of her party for supporting the switch to over-the-counter.
This is something congressional Republicans have pushed for and congressional Democrats have obstructed https://t.co/uJZ1NikkcX
— Peter J. Hasson (@peterjhasson) June 7, 2019
Which party has promoted this very idea and which has blocked every attempt?
That's the secret message here. 😉 https://t.co/52ZCdQ9Ne3
— Chad Felix Greene (@chadfelixg) June 7, 2019
Oh, #PlannedParenthood is gonna love this. She's advocating a plan that would take away one revenue source (by making BC free) while rendering the bigger revenue source (abortion) unnecessary. https://t.co/aVbDYz4ZJf
— Virginia Kruta (@VAKruta) June 7, 2019
If Ocasio-Cortez got the ball rolling on the over-the-counter change, it wouldn’t be the first time she reached across the aisle to push policy. As IJR previously reported, Ocasio-Cortez recently teamed up with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to come up with a plan that would prevent members of Congress from cashing in and becoming lobbyists after they serve in elected office.