Cory Gardner, Thom Tillis, Trent Franks, and the Great GOP Birth Control Pivot of 2014.

The Great GOP Birth Control Pivot of 2014

The Great GOP Birth Control Pivot of 2014

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 9 2014 10:54 AM

The Great GOP Birth Control Pivot of 2014

Cory Gardner wins!

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Nearly three months ago, Colorado's highly rated Republican candidate for Senate appeared to win the "War on Women." If you asked a conservative, at least, Rep. Cory Gardner had destroyed years of Democratic messaging by saying that he no longer backed a personhood amendment and that he favored making oral contraception available without a prescription. My colleague Amanda Marcotte was not convinced.

He argues in the piece that his proposal would lower contraception costs because, "Almost all therapies that move to OTC drop in price dramatically." That's true, if you ignore the millions of women whose out-of-pocket expenses for contraception above and beyond their insurance premiums have dropped to zero under the Obama HHS requirement that contraception be covered like the preventive care that it is. "Driving the price down for a safe medicine is a better way to provide access to adults who want it than President Obama's insurance mandate," Gardner blithely argues. But how can you drive the price down below what it is for insured women right now, which is $0? 

Gardner started a trend, though. He suffered no perceptible backlash from the right for endorsing oral contraception over the counter—there were no hordes of nuns blocking his driveway. As Alex Jaffe reports, other swing-state Republican candidates have climbed aboard the pill train, most notably Thom Tillis, who's trying to get North Carolina to junk its female senator in part by supporting prescription-free, full-cost access to the pill. A week ago Gardner himself went on the air with a birth control spot that features more shots of smiling women than Ace Frehley's Facetime history.

Does it work? Luckily, NBC/Marist has been in the field during the Great Birth Control experiment. Unfortunately for everyone, the poll does not reveal Udall's and Gardner's relative support from female voters. But the topline numbers find that Udall's lead over Gardner has changed only slightly—from 48–41 to 48–42—over the summer, since his position was announced. Both men have taken hits on their favorable ratings, but Gardner's damage has been worse. In July, registered voters had a slightly favorable view of him, 34/32. Now, they're slightly inclined against him, 35/39. Udall's taken some hits, but he's at 44/40, changed from 42/36 in July.

These questions precede the ad, which Republicans will watch closely to see if they can copy the Gardner position, then accuse Democrats of wanting to deny birth control to women. Will it fool actual women, who realize that the pill's not exactly like Claritin, and you can't just buy a few when you've got a thrilling weekend planned? Perhaps not. But it really does not offend conservatives.

"Well, if it's not something that destroys a human life—and there are many kinds of contraception that don't," said Arizona Rep. Trent Franks, a pro-lifer who regularly endorses the GOP's most pro-life bills. "My Catholic friends and I, we don't have the same convictions when it comes to contraception, unless it takes a human life. But I think the over-the-counter issue should be encountered not only in terms of safety, but in how it affects minors. I don't think minors should be able to access almost any kind of significant drug without their parents' permission."

Anyway, come 2015, what's the odds of this bill rocketing to the top of the GOP congressional agenda?

David Weigel is a reporter for the Washington Post.