In The Wall Street Journal last week, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal argued for the over-the-counter sale of oral contraceptives in the United States, no prescription required.
As a conservative Republican, I believe that we have been stupid to let the Democrats demagogue the contraceptives issue and pretend, during debates about health-care insurance, that Republicans are somehow against birth control.
I agree with Jindal on one point: Conservatives and Republicans have allowed the Left to demagogue the issue of contraceptives. During the 2012 presidential campaign, the Left falsely painted many pro-contraception Republicans as anti-contraception, fueling the fabricated “war on women” narrative. The same thing happened in 2008, when Sarah Palin was painted as an anti-contraception “extremist,” despite her support for access to contraception.
However, winning the narrative on contraceptives should involve proper messaging and messengers, not turning hormonal contraceptives–with their many potentially serious side effects–into over-the-counter products.
Let’s ask the question: Why do women have to go see a doctor before they buy birth control? There are two answers. First, because big government says they should, even though requiring a doctor visit to get a drug that research shows is safe helps drive up health-care costs. Second, because big pharmaceutical companies benefit from it. They know that prices would be driven down if the companies had to compete in the marketplace once their contraceptives were sold over the counter.
Jindal ignores the reasons many women should–and do–see doctors before buying oral contraceptives. Birth control pills vary in chemical components. Each brand and/or formulation alters a woman’s chemical body composition differently and has the potential to affect one’s body and mind in a different way. Many women must go through numerous trial and error courses before finding a pill whose benefit outweighs its side-effect cost. In the process, one often has some serious side effects that can and should be monitored by a physician.
Also, many women seek out hormonal contraceptives to treat a wide range of physical ailments, not simply (or sometimes at all) for pregnancy prevention. A doctor’s input with respect to what pills have proven better than others at addressing patient-specific problems is highly valuable.
Hormonal contraceptives cannot and should not be likened to condoms. Condoms are an external barrier to disease and pregnancy. Hormonal contraceptives chemically alter a woman’s body. Potential side effects include anything from vomiting to depression to hair loss to a rise in blood pressure, among others. People with certain pre-existing conditions and/or habits–like a history of blood clots or smoking–may be discouraged by doctors from taking hormonal contraceptives because they may be potentially predisposed to serious risks.
Do you think kids wouldn’t more easily get their hands on over-the-counter contraceptives? I taught kids for years and assure you that many would. Do you think those same kids would always be diligent about reading warning labels and avoiding lifestyle habits that may increase the pill’s potential for serious side effects? Many would not.
Let me share some personal experience. I took hormonal contraceptives for medical reasons for eight years, beginning at the age of nineteen. It took me four rounds of different pills to find one that didn’t make me physically and/or emotionally sick to my stomach. I went through months of horrific side effects that were thankfully supervised by a doctor’s care. If I was careless and missed pills, I felt sick. With my doctor’s help, I finally found the right match, but it hadn’t been easy. My body and mind had been taxed.
Luckily, I was finally able to find nutritional ways to get my body on track without synthetic hormones, but my memory of those challenging days remains quite clear.
Jindal also writes:
Thanks to President Obama and the pro-choice lobby, women can buy the morning-after pill over the counter without a prescription, but women cannot buy oral contraceptives over the counter unless they have a prescription.
I would argue that no hormonally-loaded concoction (some morning-after pills are just that) should be administered as an over-the-counter, medically-unsupervised product. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
I appreciate Jindal’s desire to own the narrative on contraceptives, but this isn’t how you do it. Treating all hormonal contraceptives like a one-size-fits-all product and/or advocating the over-the-counter sale of dangerous hormonal concoctions isn’t the answer.
A wide range of doctor-prescribed medicines are not available over the counter for good reason. Hormonal contraceptives–and their potentially serious side effects–should not be taken lightly.
I support access to birth control pills, but am also aware from personal experience that these are serious drugs that alter one’s body chemistry. Shifting them to over-the-counter status could potentially have very dangerous consequences.