GOP's birth control gamble

645X363 - No Companion - Full Sharing - Additional videos are suggested - Policy/Regulation/Blogs

Republicans want to beat Democrats at their own game this November by proposing a new way to widen access to birth control. 

GOP candidates around the country are saying they want to make the pill available over the counter without a doctor's prescription for the first time since it was approved in 1960. 

The party hopes its stance, widely shared by healthcare providers, will help neutralize tough debates over birth control coverage and cut into Democrats' traditional advantage among women voters.

ADVERTISEMENT
"Cory's proposal puts women in control," said Alex Siciliano, spokesman for Rep. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerGOP senator calls on China, 20 other countries to cut ties with North Korea Week ahead: Crunch time for defense bill’s cyber reforms | Equifax under scrutiny It is time to make domestic terrorism a federal crime MORE (R-Colo.), the first 2014 Senate candidate to talk up the idea. 

"Making oral contraception available to adults at every pharmacy, without the trouble of a doctor's visit, would drop the retail price and save money and time and hassle," Siciliano said in a statement. 

But Democrats have not embraced the overtures, calling them a confused ploy to distract women from the GOP's opposition to abortion rights and universal coverage for birth control. 

"Access to contraception and family planning services aren't election-year gimmicks," said Kristin Lynch, spokeswoman for Gardner's opponent, Sen. Mark UdallMark UdallDemocratic primary could upend bid for Colorado seat Picking 2018 candidates pits McConnell vs. GOP groups Gorsuch's critics, running out of arguments, falsely scream 'sexist' MORE (D-Colo.). 

"They're fundamental rights that we must protect," she continued. "Unlike Congressman Gardner, Mark doesn't see women as a box to check." 

The fiery debate is an interesting twist in an election cycle where women's health issues have already played a dominant role. 

Republicans have a unique chance to win control of the Senate, and their path to six seats runs through states like Colorado. Ed Gillespie in Virginia and Mike McFadden in Minnesota, both running uphill races against Democratic incumbents, recently echoed Gardner's decision, and GOP strategists predict the group endorsing the proposal will swell. 

In response, Democrats are shoring up their support among women voters by emphasizing issues like the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision in July, which allowed for-profit employers with religious objections not to cover birth control in their health plans. 

The party is also counting on powerful allies like Planned Parenthood Votes to paint Republican candidates as extreme on abortion and birth control access. 

Those reminders of Republican opposition form the backdrop for the GOP play on over-the-counter contraception. 

In Colorado, tensions were already high after Udall attacked Gardner for his support for "personhood," a set of views that would give legal rights to fertilized eggs and ban common forms of birth control. 

Gardner said he changed his mind on the issue, but Democrats don't agree and continue to hammer the issue. The two-term Republican started talking about over-the-counter birth control access several months later. 

"Since it makes so much sense, you might wonder why this change has not happened yet," Gardner wrote in a Denver Post op-ed in June. "It's because too many people in Washington would rather play politics with contraception instead of actually making life easier for women." 

The piece drew immediate fire from Democrats, who blasted Gardner as a political opportunist and a hypocrite. 

"Even a brief examination of Gardner's voting record shows that his newly found support for access to birth control pills is transparently hollow," wrote Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) in the same newspaper the next day.

The piece noted that Gardner has voted several times in agreement with the Hobby Lobby decision and has demanded ObamaCare's contraceptive coverage guarantee be overturned. 

Other Republican Senate candidates have faced similar criticism but say they won’t back down.

“Democrats know there is only one, nasty, bitter divisive path to victory, and they have shown they will do whatever it takes  — which means lying to and scaring female voters — in order to hold onto their majority,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee spokeswoman Brook Hougesen.

The maneuvering points to how much Republicans want to loosen what some privately call Democrats' monopoly on the women's health debate. 

Strategists said supporting over-the-counter birth control, particularly when Democrats do not fully embrace the position, gives Republicans an opportunity to reintroduce themselves to centrist women. 

Democrats said Republican are just muddying the water with proposals that would not ultimately lower out-of-pocket costs. 

"We'd be open to an over-the-counter option, as long as it improved access for women," said one Udall campaign official. "However, some OTC proposals, if insurance were removed from the equation, would actually drive up costs for women." 

Democrats also argue that their attack ads on Gardner's "personhood" stance will win the day. 

At issue now is Gardner's co-sponsorship of the Life Begins at Conception Act, a measure that would define zygotes from the "moment of fertilization" as people meriting legal protection under the 14th Amendment. 

Gardner's campaign said the bill would not impose changes to contraception laws. Democrats strongly disagree, calling the measure equal to any "personhood" proposal. 

“His support for a federal Personhood law remains strong to this day and it’s going to be a huge problem for him at the polls," said Justin Barasky, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. 

"Our side has millions of dollars behind TV ads talking about Gardner's 'personhood' position," said another Democratic campaign official. "Writing an op-ed about over-the-counter birth control or mentioning it at a debate does absolutely nothing to combat what voters are seeing in Colorado on TV every day.

But in a year where turnout is on their side and it’s Democrats who have to woo women voters to the polls, Republicans are confident Gardner and a growing number of GOP hopefuls have found the prescription to mitigate charges of a “war on women.”

"The Democrats see this as all about politics,” said a Gardner strategist. “If they wanted to make contraception more available, cheaper and more private, they could agree with us. But they'd prefer to keep this as a political issue."