Suddenly, Republicans like birth control. Or at least that’s the conclusion they would like you to draw based on a recent spate of GOP candidates announcing their support for making birth control pills available over the counter. But the truth is Republicans remain as committed as ever to restricting the reproductive freedom of poor and middle-class women while advancing the freedom of corporations.
In recent elections, Republican political candidates have of course been hurt by their own extremist stances on opposing the contraception mandate in Obamacare, restricting abortion, and generally perpetuating the war on women. The rhetoric of recent candidates like Todd Akin hasn’t exactly helped, either.
But now, a few GOPers have advanced a clever counter-narrative. Recently, four Republican candidates in tough Senate races—Cory Garner in Colorado, Ed Gillespie in Virginia, Mike McFadden in Minnesota, and Thom Tillis in North Carolina—in effect tried to declare to voters, “We support birth control so much we want women to be able to get it over-the-counter!” Sounds great. Especially coming from Republicans. If only it were true.
Reproductive health advocates agree that making birth control available over the counter is a good idea if paired with other essential reforms such as ensuring that insurance plans will cover birth control without a prescription. Without these reforms, say advocates, the reality is that access to contraception wouldn’t really expand and in fact would likely be reduced.
Instead, these and other Republicans are pursuing the sort of de-forms and policy reversals that will make birth control less accessible to millions of American women if offered solely over-the-counter. After all, health insurance companies rarely cover the cost of over-the-counter medicines. Over-the-counter contraception would only expand access if it were still covered by insurance as part of a strategy to expand women’s contraceptive choices. But Republicans are trying to roll back or repeal Obamacare, including the law’s mandate that the cost of birth control be covered by employer-provided insurance.
Plus instead of expanding access for younger women, Republicans are attacking (and insulting) women who use contraception as unable to control their libidos. That’s in addition to all the policies Republicans in general and these four Senate candidates specifically support to cut women’s access to abortion and other reproductive health care options.
In the aftermath of the Hobby Lobby ruling, Republicans claimed that women who want birth control can and should simply pay for it themselves. Conservatives don’t make this same argument when it comes to open-heart surgery or blood pressure medication or even Viagra, but they expect women to foot the bill for their basic reproductive health care. That broad offense aside, the fact is that for many women these costs are prohibitive. Upwards of $600 a year for oral contraception, let alone $1,000 for an IUD or $50 for emergency contraception, both of which are also jeopardized by attacks on Obamacare, is a lot of money to hardworking American families, many of whom rely on a rock-bottom minimum wage that Republicans refuse to raise.
The same disparity is sadly true of abortion. Wealthy women in America will almost assuredly always be able to access abortion care, in spite of extremist restrictions. Even if Roe v. Wade is repealed someday, a number of states will likely legalize abortion within their borders, and wealthy women will simply be able to travel to those states.
However, prohibiting public funding for reproductive freedom and shutting down abortion clinics has disproportionately affected low- and middle-income women who simply can’t afford the time off work and the gas money to drive hundreds of miles to the nearest clinic, let alone the often-significant cost of procedures. Before Roe v. Wade, of the thousands of women who died because of illegal abortions, a disproportionate percentage were low-income women of color.
Yet while there is clearly no upside for low-income and middle-class women in any Republican positions on reproductive health, there is an upside for one group: corporations. After all, if Republicans get oral contraception provided over-the-counter, even the insurance companies that were covering contraceptive costs before the Obamacare mandate will have a new excuse to stop doing so—reducing their bottom line by arguing that contraception is now like aspirin and insurance customarily doesn’t cover either. In turn, always happy to save money, corporate America will no doubt reward Republicans with loads of campaign cash.
Because much as the Hobby Lobby company was happily providing contraception coverage before it decided to object to the Obamacare mandate and file suit, no doubt many other companies have been providing contraceptive coverage for years and have only just recently started to resent it. And if Republicans can’t serve the interests of resentful corporations, well, who can they serve?
In the middle of this are women voters. Well, not exactly in the middle—women voters are decisively on the side of the party that respects their reproductive health, not to mention the party that stands up for equal wages, takes action to end violence against women, helps make college more affordable for families, and more. Women like these things. What we don’t like is condescension (see, ahem, this!) and deceit.
But funny thing, Republicans pull tricks like trying to look supportive of reproductive health care while they’re actually undermining it—because they’re condescending enough to think that women voters won’t know the difference. Yeah. These Republican candidates have taken such unpopular and extreme anti-abortion positions, like supporting fetal “personhood” measures and mandatory trans-vaginal ultrasounds, their only hope of winning over women voters is deception. I would tell you what a pathetic political strategy that is, but I wouldn’t want to be condescending too.