birth control pill pack

Above a calendar, a woman takes the next pill from a pack of the contraceptive pill. (Photo: Annette Riedl/picture alliance via Getty Images)

With Reproductive Rights Under Threat, Dems Introduce 'Free the Pill' Bill

Noting attacks by judges and state lawmakers, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley declared that "we must use every tool available to protect reproductive healthcare and affirm it as the fundamental human right that it is."

Congressional Democrats on Tuesday put forth legislation intended to ensure that people across the United States can access and afford over-the-counter contraception, which lawmakers and advocates argue is increasingly urgent amid mounting right-wing attacks on reproductive freedom.

"No one should have to jump through ridiculous hoops or pay extra just to get the birth control they need."

The Affordability Is Access Act comes as the nation awaits the long-anticipated reversal of Roe v. Wade--the Supreme Court ruling that affirmed abortion rights in 1973--and was re-introduced on the anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 case that legalized birth control.

The renewed effort to pass the #FreeThePill bill is being led by Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) along with Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) as well as Reps. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

"With this far-right Supreme Court and anti-choice legislatures across the country stopping at nothing to attack our reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy, we must use every tool available to protect reproductive healthcare and affirm it as the fundamental human right that it is," said Pressley, chair of the Pro-Choice Caucus' Abortion Rights and Access Taskforce.

"Our bill would help us do just that by ensuring birth control is affordable and accessible to all and affirming a person's fundamental right to make decisions about their body, when to start a family, and their future," she added. "Our work to protect our reproductive freedom is far from finished and we're not backing down in this fight."

Specifically, the legislation would ensure full insurance coverage of all oral contraception that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved for routine use without a prescription. It would also ensure that the agency retains sole authority to determine which options can be provided over the counter and that retailers don't interfere with customers' access.

"No one should have to jump through ridiculous hoops or pay extra just to get the birth control they need--because birth control impacts women's health, their bodily autonomy, their wallets, and their economic security," declared Murray, who's also spearheaded efforts to make insurers comply with the Affordable Care Act's contraception coverage protections.

"Across the country, Republicans are fighting to roll back the clock on reproductive rights and control women's choices about if and when to start a family--but Democrats are fighting back just as hard," she continued. "We know that women across America don't want politicians making it harder to get birth control, they want to free the pill--and this bill will do just that, by ensuring women can get the birth control they need without a prescription or out-of-pocket costs."

While the Democratic Party currently controls the White House and both chambers of Congress, this proposal faces the same hurdles in the Senate that have blocked various other bills during this session: the GOP, the filibuster, and a few right-wing Democrats.

Notably, after the Supreme Court's draft opinion to overturn Roe leaked last month, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) again joined with the Senate GOP to prevent a final vote on the Women's Health Protection Act (WHPA), which would affirm abortion rights nationwide.

The leaked opinion has bolstered warnings by reproductive freedom advocates that "making a range of contraceptive options widely accessible is more urgent than ever to help decrease the risk of unplanned pregnancy," as Rewirereported earlier this year.

"Across the country, we're seeing people speak out in support of reproductive healthcare, including abortion and contraception," Victoria Nichols, the project director of the advocacy campaign Free the Pill, toldPrism last month. "Policymakers who want to roll back contraceptive access do not represent the majority in this country."

According to Prism: "Nichols said the country needs policies that support equitable access to birth control and expand reproductive healthcare options, especially for those who experience systemic barriers. This includes over-the-counter birth control pills that are affordable, fully covered by insurance, and accessible for all who want and need it."

Supporters of the new bill include Ibis Reproductive Health, which is behind the Free the Pill campaign. The organization's president, Kelly Blanchard, said Tuesday that "affordability is key to ensuring all of us can access contraception."

"Birth control pills are safe and effective, and are very popular methods," she added. "As we get closer to the day when we can access birth control pills over the counter, we must ensure that they are affordable and fully covered by insurance. We're working to ensure that everyone can access the birth control they need, however much money they have."

The bill is also endorsed by Power to Decide. The group's CEO--Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley, a practicing OB-GYN--stressed that "removing barriers to safe and effective birth control is an urgent reproductive health access and equity issue," which is "especially true for people in rural communities and communities of color, who already face systemic roadblocks to getting the healthcare they need."

"In my own practice, I have seen how barriers such as cost and access to providers can limit the options available to my patients and make it harder for them to access the contraceptive method that meets their needs," McDonald-Mosley said. "Far too often, after counseling my patients, assessing the risks and benefits of each type of birth control, and helping them identify a method that works best for them, we find that the price tag or lack of availability places it out of reach. Many more people may not be able to get a timely appointment with a provider in the first place."

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