A month-long dose of hormonal birth control pills is displayed in Sacramento, California August 26, 2016. A pharmaceutical company is seeking U.S. approval for the first-ever birth control pill women could buy without a prescription. The request from a French drugmaker sets up a high-stakes decision for the Food and Drug Administration amid political fallout from the recent Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
After passing a bill to protect same-sex and interracial marriages amid concerns the US Supreme Court overturned a federal right to abortion access would undermine other rights criticized by conservatives, the United States House of Representatives is about to vote to establish a nationwide birth control right.
House Democrats say the legislation would uphold a decades-old precedent and secure access to contraceptives in the face of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
Republican U.S. Representative from Iowa Ashley Hinson intends to vote against the bill.
Hinson instead introduced a separate bill with Republican U.S. Representative from Iowa Mariannette Miller-Meeks that would guarantee women over the age of 18 access to over-the-counter birth control pills.
Representative Ashley Hinson, R-Iowa
The bill requires the Food and Drug Administration to give priority review to safe birth control pills already approved for common use so they can be made available over-the-counter for adult women.
Over-the-counter birth control pills are available worldwide, but are only available in the United States by prescription.
In contrast, emergency contraceptives, including Plan B, are already available over the counter.
Drugmaker HRA Pharma has applied to the Food and Drug Administration for approval of an over-the-counter birth control pill called Opill. The agency’s review process is expected to take approximately 10 months.
“Millions of American women safely use birth control pills and allowing women to access birth control pills at their local pharmacy is common sense policy,” Hinson said in a statement.
“This is particularly important for women in rural areas who may have to drive over an hour to see their doctor. We should come together to support and empower women by expanding access to birth control, improving maternal health care options, and ensuring women have the resources to choose life. I will continue to work bipartisanly to advocate for Iowa women and support families in Congress.
The bill would also give patients greater flexibility to use health savings accounts and flexible spending accounts to pay for contraception and waive “stocking” limitations on purchasing over-the-counter items during the use of these accounts for birth control.
FILE – U.S. Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool, File)
As a state senator, Miller-Meeks introduced and passed a bill in the Iowa Senate allowing women over the age of 18 to purchase over-the-counter oral contraceptives in Iowa. The bill, which was backed by Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds and Planned Parenthood, failed to gain Iowa House support and died in the 2019 legislative session.
Studies by the Guttmacher Institute and other medical researchers have shown that access to contraception reduces abortion rates.
“This important bill will ensure the FDA moves quickly to approve over-the-counter oral contraceptives,” Miller-Meeks said in a statement. “As a woman and a physician, I recognize the need for increased access to contraceptives and believe this bill is an important step in promoting women’s health.
What the Right to Contraception Bill would do
The Right to Contraception Bill pending in the House protects a range of contraceptive methods, devices and drugs, including oral and emergency contraceptives, intrauterine devices, condoms, transdermal patches , sterilization procedures, etc.
In this undated image provided by Merck, a model holds the Nexplanon hormonal implant for birth control. (AP Photo/Merck)
It also allows the Department of Justice, as well as providers and people harmed by restrictions on access to contraception made illegal under the law, to go to court to enforce access.
Republicans argue the legislation violates conscience protections for health care providers and could funnel taxpayer dollars to abortion providers.
Judge Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion in Dobbs – which struck down the constitutional right to abortion – urged the court to reconsider its 1965 ruling protecting access to contraception.
Several states have already restricted access to contraception by removing public funding, defining abortion broadly enough to include contraception, and allowing health care providers to refuse to provide contraceptive-related services. based on their personal beliefs, according to House Democrats.
The future of legislation in the US Senate is unclear
It’s unclear whether the Democrats’ Birth Control Bill would pass the equally divided U.S. Senate, where they’ll need at least 10 GOP votes to defeat a filibuster.
Iowa Republican Senator Joni Ernst told the Washington Post that she is “very committed to making sure women have birth control.” Ernst in 2019 introduced legislation similar to Hinson’s bill that would expand access to over-the-counter contraception without a prescription and allow people to pay for it with their health savings accounts.
Ernst, however, did not commit to voting for federal birth control protections, saying perhaps that should be up to the states.
“I don’t think states will go that far,” she added.
Republican U.S. Senator from Iowa, Chuck Grassley, said he was “not aware of any significant effort to challenge access to contraception, which has been widely available for decades.”
“Most insurance plans also cover it. I support access to contraception and I don’t think the government should restrict it further,” Grassley said in a statement.
Quad-City Times reporter Sarah Watson contributed to this story.
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