Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) says he wants to make birth control accessible over the counter, but has yet to support a bill to do just that.
On Wednesday, Cruz tweeted to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), asking her to team up on “a simple, clean bill making birth control available over the counter.” Last week, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that birth control should be over the counter to her millions of followers. Twenty minutes later, she tweeted it should also be free.
The freshman congresswoman has repeatedly used her Twitter platform to spotlight progressive policies and drive national conversations. Cruz’s attempt to engage with Ocasio-Cortez online marks the second time he’s done this in as many weeks. So far, he has not taken any apparent, substantive actions.
But there’s seemingly an opportunity for bipartisan action on over-the-counter birth control.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), along with other House members including Ocasio-Cortez, introduced a bill in the Senate and House on Thursday to make oral contraceptives more accessible. The congresswomen encouraged Cruz to support the bill, but as of publication time, he has yet to do so, according to Murray’s office. Cruz has had various opportunities to sponsor the bill, as it was first introduced in 2015. Cruz did not respond to a request for comment.
Hi there @tedcruz hit up our girl @pattymurray she and I have already written the bill, album dropping tomorrow @AOC's vocals (& original co sponsorship) = on point. @KatieHill4CA’s an original too. Just call it the Destiny's Child of OTC birth control https://t.co/Ri2q1Viez4
— Ayanna Pressley (@AyannaPressley) June 12, 2019
The Affordability is Access Act would make oral birth control available over the counter, working with the Food and Drug Administration to make this possible. If passed, a person wouldn’t need to see a doctor to get a prescription. But for birth control to be truly accessible, the bill also says over-the-counter contraception should be covered by public and private health insurance, without cost-sharing. Only residents in 12 states and the District of Columbia have insurance that covers over-the-counter birth control.
“While President Trump and Vice President Pence have been focused on putting up barriers and making it harder for women to get the care they need, I’m fighting to tear them down and pushing for steps like this legislation to make it easier for all women to access affordable birth control,” Murray said in a statement to ThinkProgress.
“I hope Republicans who have spoken about increasing access to over-the-counter birth control will support this bill and acknowledge the reality that you simply can’t have access without affordability,” she added.
Some Republicans began endorsing over-the-counter birth control as a response to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate, which made birth control free with insurance and greatly reduced people’s out-of-pocket costs. Republicans were against the widely popular contraceptive mandate for religious reasons, so tried to pivot the conversation to over-the-counter birth control instead of insurance coverage. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), for example, introduced a bill in 2017 to make birth control over the counter at local pharmacies for people over 18 years old.
Cruz hasn’t even sponsored the GOP legislation. He also has a history of falsely calling birth control “abortifacients.”
It’s estimated more than 19 million women in the U.S. of reproductive age live in a ‘contraceptive desert’– meaning there’s limited access to a publicly-funded provider who offers contraception. https://t.co/5QEYXvsA47
— Kaiser Family Foundation (@KaiserFamFound) June 13, 2019
Making pills available over the counter does eliminate some barriers to accessing health care, but a Guttmacher Institute analysis shows it’s not enough. The process would take years, and the first approved pill would likely be a progestin-only pill — which a small percentage of patients rely on. Also, age restrictions are counterproductive given that research shows younger people are more likely to have unintended pregnancies.
Moreover, simply making the pill available over the counter isn’t a replacement for the contraceptive mandate and it doesn’t address the costs. Emergency contraception, for example, remains quite expensive despite being over the counter, the analysis notes.
The Guttmacher Institute is part of a coalition working to make birth control over the counter, and it supports the Murray-Pressley bill that emphasizes availability and affordability.
“The new bill from Senator Murray and Representative Pressley would be a great step forward for over-the-counter contraceptive access by closing a loophole that allows insurers to deny coverage without a prescription,” Adam Sonfield, a senior policy manager at the Guttmacher Institute, said in a statement to ThinkProgress.
“It’s critical to make sure that all contraceptive methods are fully covered by every form of public and private insurance, that everyone has health insurance in the first place, that publicly supported family planning providers and programs, like Title X, that underpin their work are protected, and that, ultimately, everyone can freely use the contraceptive method that works best for them,” he added.
Murray and other Democrats have worked to lift voices who oppose the Trump administration’s attempts to undermine the Title X program.