Senator Patty Murray wants insurers to cover over-the-counter contraceptives. : NPR
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If there was ever a time for Republicans to support efforts to expand access to birth control, U.S. Senator Patty Murray of Washington thinks there should be.
“Women in many states today, because of the Supreme Court decision, are really concerned about their access to birth control pills to make sure they don’t get pregnant, because in their states, they won’t have access to abortion care,” Murray, a Democrat, said in an interview with NPR.
“I strongly disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision,” she said, referring to last summer’s decision. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision that overturned decades of abortion rights precedent. “But at the same time, we need to make sure over-the-counter birth control is available.”
Murray on Thursday reintroduced legislation that would require insurance companies to cover over-the-counter birth control pills as soon as they become available without a prescription, as recently unanimously recommended by a Food and Drug Administration panel. More than 100 countries already authorize the distribution of oral contraceptives in this way.
Murray’s bill would build on a requirement in the Affordable Care Act that most health insurance companies provide contraceptive coverage without co-pays.
“Now that we see it could become available over-the-counter, we want to make sure insurers are still paying for it because it’s expensive,” Murray said. “It’s a big step if the FDA approves it and women can go to the pharmacy and buy it without having to make an appointment with a doctor…but it won’t be available to some women unless it’s is not covered by insurance.
A push for Republican support
In the wake of the Dobbs decision, Murray says she hopes Republicans will join her – which would be essential in a tightly divided Congress for her legislation to move forward.
Murray notes that some Republicans who oppose abortion rights have said they have no intention of limiting access to birth control. Leaders of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, among others, have made such claims.
“I tell them, this is your opportunity to show people that you live the words you speak and co-sign the legislation,” Murray said. “Work with us. Let’s get this across.”
So far, she has no Republican co-sponsors. But some congressional Republicans have a history of supporting legislation to make contraceptives easier to access. Last year, just weeks after the Dobbs ruling, a group of Iowa Republicans including Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley and Congresswomen Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Ashley Hinson have proposed legislation to expedite efforts to make certain contraceptives available to patients without a prescription. 18 years and over.
Groups opposed to abortion rights have generally avoided taking positions explicitly opposed to contraception, although some support legislation that reproductive rights advocates say could threaten access to some birth control methods.
In a statement, Students for Life of America described the move toward over-the-counter birth control as “reckless” and suggested that easier distribution of birth control pills is unwise given rising rates of some types. of sexually transmitted infections, which the organization has described. as an “epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases”.
A separate fight – over abortion pills
Murray’s bill focuses on improving access to birth control pills, which prevent pregnancy. But the proposal comes amid other battles over access to reproductive health care, including ongoing litigation in federal courts over abortion. pill, mifepristone. This medicine is widely used in combination with another medicine mainly to terminate first trimester pregnancies and to treat patients with miscarriages.
A lawsuit filed by a coalition of anti-abortion rights groups is challenging the pill’s approval by the FDA in 2000 and several subsequent rule changes that made the drug easier to access, including allowing the distribution of pills by mail. It seeks to completely remove mifepristone from the market.
In the latest development in this case, a federal appeals court heard arguments last week during a hearing in New Orleans.
As NPR’s Selena Simmons-Duffin reported, a panel of conservative-leaning federal judges posed questions to attorneys on both sides. Judge Cory Wilson asked Assistant Deputy Attorney General Sarah Harrington, who represented the FDA, what happens to patients who receive pills in the mail, if the drugs fail to terminate a pregnancy within two weeks. Harrington told Wilson that in a small percentage of cases, patients may need to contact their healthcare providers for follow-up care.
Abortion rights advocates say medical abortion is a preferred option for many patients for a variety of reasons, including people who live in rural areas without access to abortion clinics, those who want to avoid surgery to end an unwanted pregnancy or help relieve a miscarriage already in progress, or who prefer to complete the process at home.
In an interview with NPR’s Becky Sullivan, a woman named Rebecca, who asked that we only use her first name, said having the option to terminate her pregnancy at home in 2020 during the pandemic was a “godsend”, especially considering that she believed some family members would not have supported her decision.
“Being able to do it in the privacy of my home and not have to explain anything to anyone is the biggest part of it,” she said.
Brianna Scott and Jeanette Woods contributed to this report.