The Pill

12.14.12

Bobby Jindal’s Silly Proposal for Over-the-Counter Birth-Control

No sooner had the Louisiana governor thrown his support behind over-the-counter birth-control pills came the speculation he’s getting ready for 2016—and bringing the GOP back to the mainstream. Allison Yarrow talks to women activists about Jindal’s misguided endorsement.

Louisiana’s Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, wants to expand your access to birth control. You heard right. But women activists and advocates aren’t buying the pitch, claiming it is shortsighted and intended solely for Jindal’s own political gain.

Jindal hopped on board with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ recommendation that oral contraceptives be readily available over the counter, he penned in a Wall Street Journal op-ed today. His reasoning? The meds are safe, and buying them without a prescription keeps costs down. Oh, and sparring about it in Washington is a waste of time.

“We have been stupid to let the Democrats demagogue the contraceptives issue and pretend, during debates about health-care insurance, that Republicans are somehow against birth control,” he said. “It’s a disingenuous political argument they make.”

There are those who swooned at his news. “Finally! A GOP elected unapologetically pro-birth control. THANK YOU,” said GOP commentator, Margaret Hoover on Twitter. Jindal’s piece “recognizes that popular opinion in support of easier access to birth control spans across the political spectrum,” praised ThinkProgress. Many opined that Jindal’s openness seemed a welcome contrast to the Republicans and a Romney ticket women rejected in large part because they took aim at health-care access.

Republicans fought insurance coverage of birth control during the Obamacare debates, and lobbied for coverage exemptions for religious organizations when it became clear that in fact companies would be required to subsidize family planning. Many in both parties suspect Jindal is nakedly making a play for the role of GOP reformer and palatable-to-the-middle frontrunner in 2016.

But women and advocates say his tacit birth-control pill endorsement isn’t fooling them. They reject Jindal’s message outright and attest that it raises more questions than it answers.

“Bobby Jindal, women voters aren’t stupid enough to fall for this,” tweeted activist Shelby Knox. She and others point to the Affordable Care Act’s full coverage of birth-control prescriptions for women who have health insurance, most of whom will begin receiving this perk come the first of 2013. They oppose Jindal’s plan because they say it would either regress the status quo, outlining no strategy for insurance to pay for the over-the-counter pills, or worse, it would have women shell out money for what they are poised to get for free.

“It’s kind of hilarious,” said activist Christina Page, who authored How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America. “The idea here is that, oh, OK, now we have to pay for it again? To me that sounds like thanks but no thanks. We won the election, thanks.”

Page says Jindal’s assumption that oral contraception is the lone type that women use is off base, and omits other types like the IUD and vaginal ring. This theory casts all women—and all types of birth control—as the same and disregards the need for individualized medicine, according to Page. “It’s because of the prominence of pills in our minds that he thinks this might work,” Page said. “It distracts from other more tailored methods, which are probably better for most women.”

Republicans fought insurance coverage of birth control during the Obamacare debates, and lobbied for coverage exemptions for religious organizations when it became clear that in fact companies would be required to subsidize family planning.

According to Jindal, there are only two reasons why a woman would need a doctor to be involved in her acquisition of birth control, and neither involves the woman and her doctor. Rather, they revolve around money and government, and big pharma. But visiting the doctor is far from the problem, said Page. “We’re fine treating our medical care like our medical care.” And though fertility regulation and family planning are central to why some women choose birth control, others partake to regulate hormones or prevent ovarian cancer. Many women experimenting with different types of birth control desire the guidance of their doctors to help them find the one that works.

In addition to focusing only on the pill, Jindal’s rhetoric certainly did not reconcile one of its most prominent and vocal opponents, the Catholic Church, a group of whose dioceses is suing the Obama administration to avoid having to pay for employees’ birth control in their institutions.

“We disagree with the governor’s opinion because, as the Catholic Church teaches, contraception is always wrong,” said the Archdiocese of New Orleans to Jindal today.

Jindal’s program is not only intended to win him political points, but it would actually heap a new and bogus age restriction on the pill, according to activist Erin Matson. “He’s trying to control what promises to be an ensuing debate so it includes politician-inserted restrictions for young people—before it has barely begun,” she said.

“As an unapologetic pro-life Republican, I also believe that every adult (18 years old and over) who wants contraception should be able to purchase it,” Jindal said. But research shows that women under 18 need birth control and use it safely. There 62 million American women of reproductive age, which is defined as being between 15 and 44 years old. The average age of “first sex” is not 18 but 17, and teens who do not use contraception during first sex double their chances of becoming teen mothers, according to research from the Guttmacher Institute.

It’s unclear whether Jindal, or other Republicans for that matter, can emerge from the shadow of perceived Republican assault on birth control. Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards praised Jindal’s reiteration of the organization’s platform that birth-control access should not be a political issue, but reminded that many of his colleagues are still women’s health-care foes.

“Unfortunately, his remarks stand in contrast to some of his colleagues in Congress who have tried repeatedly to eliminate the nation’s family planning program … We hope that Governor Jindal will help keep policymakers at the state and federal level out of women’s personal health care decisions,” she said in a statement.

“To me, this is silly, his proposal,” said Page. “It doesn’t address anything for anybody. It creates more problems.”