Last week, the Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece by Louisiana Governor and 2016 GOP hopeful Bobby Jindal, in which he argued that oral contraceptives should be made available without a prescription. Jindal is pro-life and has governed accordingly, so his proposal is being seriously debated in the pro-life community.
Arguments in favor:
- De-politicize contraception: Jindal notes that in the 2012 election, Democratic messaging was “that Republicans are somehow against birth control,” which is “a disingenuous political argument.” Over-the-counter birth control would make that a non-issue in 2016 and beyond.
- Protect free exercise of religion: The debate over contraception was never about being for or against birth control, but about who pays— and specifically, whether Catholics who have religious objections to contraception can be forced to provide it. If oral contraceptives cease to be prescription medication, the question of who pays will have a simple answer: the user, not an employer or an insurance company, will pay (just like people currently pay for condoms out of pocket). Note, however, that this would not address other types of contraception covered by the HHS mandate, such as IUDs.
- ACOG is in favor: The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recently released an opinion in favor of over-the-counter oral contraceptives. It does seem strange that morning-after pill– which contains higher hormone levels, is less effective, and may (or may not) work after fertilization– is already available over-the-counter, while regular pills are not.
- Hurt Planned Parenthood’s brand: Jindal doesn’t mention this, but think about it: if birth control is available at any old CVS or Walgreen’s without a prescription, it will be very difficult for Planned Parenthood to market itself as the source of contraception for women. Combine that with the impending requirement that every Planned Parenthood affiliate do abortions, and the American people will quickly figure out what Planned Parenthood is really about.
- Women’s health: One ACOG opinion does not a medical consensus make. Oral contraceptives have serious risks, and we should not jump to a premature conclusion just because it’s politically convenient.
- Problems for teenagers: Jindal limited his argument to people 18 and over, but
it could easily be expanded to minors. Will parents be able to know if
their daughters are on the pill? Will they be on the lookout for
potential complications? Will OTC oral contraception encourage teen
sexual activity? Will OTC oral contraception discourage condom
use, exposing teens to a greater risk of STDs?
- Long-term pro-abortion strategy: Planned Parenthood has come out in favor of Jindal’s proposal, which should make us pause. Over the long term, abortion supporters would surely love for the abortion pill (RU-486/misoprostol/mifeprex) to be available without a prescription, which would be a disaster for babies and for women’s health. It’s hard to make that happen without making more innocuous medications available OTC first. (But note that some abortion advocates are publicly opposing the idea of OTC oral contraception, putting them at odds with Planned Parenthood.)
After all that, I’m still on the fence. Convince me of your position in the comments section.