The OTC Pill Gambit

It was first suggested in 2012 by the ever-devious Bobby Jindal. Now it’s become central to Cory Gardner’s Senate campaign in Colorado, and North Carolina’s Thom Tillis has picked up on it, too: supporting a regulatory change to make the standard oral contraceptive “pill” available over-the-counter. Byron York suggests it’s the definitive Republican answer to all the “war on women” rhetoric of Democrats, who are left “spluttering in rage” at the ploy.

There’s no question it’s clever–even sort of a threefer: (1) taking The Pill out of the Rx drug equation protects those “pharmacists of conscience” who don’t want to fill prescriptions if they don’t approve of the marital status or lifestyles of the women involved; (2) it also makes the fight against Obamacare’s contraception coverage mandate less portentous and controversial; and (3) most obviously, lets Republicans claim a “centrist” position on reproductive rights: pro-contraception, anti-abortion.

The ploy is especially important to Gardner, a past supporter of a highly unpopular “personhood initiative” that would implicitly outlaw any contraceptive device or medication that interferes with the implantation of a fertilized ovum in the uterine wall, which some anti-contraception opponents believe The Pill does in selected cases.

But while embracing The Pill does perhaps protect Republican pols from accusations of opposing the standard birth control practices of many tens of millions of Americans, it hardly means they are invulnerable to charges they support “contraception” generally, or that they now should have the high ground on reproductive rights.

Instead of “spluttering with rage,” progressives confronting pols like Gardner and Tillis and Jindal should welcome their support for easier access to The Pill, and then follow up with this question: How about Plan B contraception? And how about IUDs? Distinguishing between different methods of contraception will send them back down the rabbit hole of extremist-sounding hair-splitting about defining “conception” and “life,” and make it clear they don’t want women to have any meaningful control over their reproductive systems if it doesn’t meet various conservative religious tests.

York thinks the OTC Pill gambit could “end the birth control wars.” It shouldn’t so long as women insist on defining “birth control” as including types of contraception that the antichoice movement would deny them.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.