Senate Candidate Proposes Over-the-Counter Sale of Birth Control Pills

Colorado Sen. Mark Udall’s Republican challenger, Rep. Cory Gardner, published a guest opinion in the Denver Post Thursday proposing that oral contraception be available for “over-the-counter purchases by adults.”

Gardner’s opinion piece came in response to a TV spot, an online ad, and a barrage of other communications by the Udall campaign and pro-choice allies spotlighting Gardner’s record of restricting access to contraception and abortion and his decision in March to abandon his longstanding support of a state “personhood” amendment, which would ban all abortion in Colorado.

After over two months of near silence on his “personhood” backpedaling, Gardner launched an advertisement Tuesday in which he looks directly into the camera and says, “They are attacking me for changing my mind on personhood, after I learned more and listened to more of you. No wonder Sen. Udall and President Obama can’t relate to that.”

In his latest TV ad, also released on Tuesday, Udall turns to the camera and says, “Because this really matters, it’s important you hear this directly from me. My opponent, Congressman Gardner … sponsored a bill making abortion a felony, even in cases of rape and incest. His record is beyond troubling. It’s wrong. We’re talking about your rights, as women, as families, as Coloradans.”

Two days later, in his Denver Post piece, Gardner went on the offensive, calling for over-the-counter sale of contraception and writing:

Between Sen. Udall’s campaign and Sen. Harry Reid’s super-PAC, the Washington establishment has already spent $1.5 million on attack ads trying to use contraception as a wedge to divide our state. They argue that I, and others, would ban contraception when they know that charge is completely untrue.

“Since ‘the pill’ was first approved 44 years ago, it’s been one of the most proven and tested pharmaceuticals of our time,” wrote Gardner. “It is safe, reliable, effective, and presents very few risks or complications for the more than 10 million women who use it. When other drugs have that kind of track record, we approve them for purchase without a prescription.”

On Friday, Rep. Diana  DeGette (D-CO) responded to Gardner’s Denver Post article with her own guest opinion titled “Gardner commentary is a political play unworthy of Colorado voters.”
DeGette wrote that “as a woman and an elected official,” she was “offended that someone would put forward a proposal that transparently contradicts [his] long-held positions.”

“He has repeatedly supported efforts to restrict access to contraception, including birth control pills, and opposed proposals to make it more affordable and available for all women,” DeGette wrote, citing, among other things, Gardner’s attempt, in the Colorado statehouse in 2006, to strip coverage of emergency contraception from the state Medicaid program and his repeated opposition to legislation requiring insurance policies to cover oral contraception.

DeGette also pointed out that Gardner has voted against allowing medical staff to inform sexual assault victims about access to emergency contraception.

Joining DeGette in condemning Gardner was NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, which blasted out a news release stating that women “can’t trust” Gardner. ProgressNow Colorado launched a video response online to Gardner’s ad, and Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado, which previously released an online ad focused on Gardner’s “personhood” stance, also stated Gardner can’t “delete his long record” by publishing an article in the newspaper.

In public statements, Gardner’s critics did not address the substance of Gardner’s proposal for over-the-counter sales, which he contends would make oral contraception cheaper and more convenient; Gardner cites a 2012 American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists study to back him up.

Gardner is not the first Republican who’s suggested the over-the-counter sale of oral contraception. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal penned a piece in the Wall Street Journal in 2012 making a similar proposal, as did Barbara Comstock, a Virginia lawmaker.

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  • fiona64

    IMO, this is one of those good news/bad news things. I do believe that BCPs should be widely available. However, a) if it’s “over the counter,” it no longer falls under the ACA and b) not all formulations of BCP work for all women. This still needs to be a prescription med.

    • Margaret Whitestone

      Agreed. We’ll no longer need to worry about religious zealot employers getting in the way, but once again the full financial burden will be on women.

      • Shan

        “We’ll no longer need to worry about religious zealot employers getting in the way,”

        Just pharmacists. And whole chains refusing to sell it.

        Still not sure how I feel about it not being prescription for the reasons fiona64 stated.

  • Ellen

    Great summary piece — and raises two points for me: Gardner hasn’t talked about doing ANYTHING else to make other forms of birth control more accessible and when he touts his ability to change his mind, he skips the part about his still supporting federal legislation that does basically the same thing the state ballot measure would so how is that actually changing one’s mind?

  • Rebecca Griffin

    It’s fascinating to see how Gardner is trying to play this. The main thing I take from this is that candidates and activists shouldn’t be shy about attacking candidates on the anti-choice records. I wrote more about it on my blog: