Progressive Bubble Struggles to Comprehend GOP's OTC Birth Control Push

Republicans have been saying for at least two years that they are not opposed to the most common forms of birth control. Somehow that message still comes as a shock to many progressives.

One of the Democratic memes propagated in the run up to the 2012 election was the so-called “war on women.” This catch-all term was applied to everything from public funding of Planned Parenthood to Equal Pay legislation, but always near the center of it was the idea of access to birth control.

Near the end of the 2012 election, the “war on women” got a second life after some bone-headed comments by Todd Akin (that women’s bodies could somehow prevent pregnancy after
rape) revived the idea that Republicans were out-of-touch on
women’s issues. To some degree, the war on women had worked which insured there would be a sequel.

Shortly after the 2012 election, Governor Bobby Jindal of Lousiana proposed a solution to the political wrangling over birth control. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Jindal endorsed an idea which was already favored by most women: Make oral contraceptives available over the counter, i.e. without a prescription.

Early on in 2014, Democrats promised to revive the “war on women” attacks against Republicans. And in response to these attacks a number of pro-life Republicans running for the Senate including Cory Gardner in Colorado, Mike McFadden in Minnesota, Ed Gillespie in Virginia and Thom Tillis in North Carolina have embraced Jindal’s OTC contraceptives idea.

That has created a difficult problem for progressives trying to revive the “war on women” meme. On the one hand they support the idea of OTC birth control. On the other hand the wrong people are suggesting it. And so you have Planned Parenthood putting out a schizophrenic press release which simultaneously endorses the idea while also attacking the Republicans making the suggestion.

The confusion isn’t limited to abortion providers. Buzzfeed put up a piece last night which claims the GOP is doing something new and “walking away from social conservatives” by embracing OTC contraception. But in the very next sentence the authors write, “Religious Republicans…generally don’t oppose the sale of
conventional contraceptives.” So who exactly feels the GOP is walking away from them if not religious Republicans? The authors never say.

Over at the Washington Post, progressive Paul Waldman seems similarly befuddled by the lack of outrage on the right. He offers a convoluted explanation whereby pushing for OTC birth control is actually an attempt to “make birth control less available to women.” And it’s this plan to restrict access through universal availability that explains why, “we haven’t seen any public blowback from the Christian right on this issue.”

There is of course a much simpler explanation for why the right hasn’t objected. They don’t object.

A Gallup survey from 2012 asked people about the morality of various public issues. Birth control was the least contentious of the 18 issues surveyed. Overall, 89% of adults said it was morally acceptable. There was almost no party divide on the issue as 90% of Democrats, 89% of Independents and 87% of Republicans agreed. The only significant opposition at all was from 15% of Catholics. Still that left 82% of Catholics saying birth control was morally acceptable.

And yet, throughout the debate over the Hobby Lobby case, which was decided by the Supreme Court earlier this year, Democrats sought to frame the issue as religious conservatives trying to take away women’s access contraception. In fact, Hobby Lobby never objected to the most popular forms of oral contraception and still does not. 

But demagoguery doesn’t allow for much nuance. Perhaps that’s why progressives still seem to be struggling to grasp something Republicans have been telling them for years. As the Gallup data suggests, this is one of those rare issues where nearly all Americans agree. If there is a political agenda at work on the part of Republicans it’s a very simple one: Stop Democrats from reviving a bogus wedge-issue by making it crystal clear the GOP supports women’s access to birth control.


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