GOP wants women to buy over-the-counter birth control with all the money they aren't getting paid

The Paycheck Fairness Act advances in the Senate, but the GOP still hates it

Published September 12, 2014 3:04PM (EDT)

Rand Paul, Mike Coffman     (AP/Timothy D. Easley/Carolyn Kaster)
Rand Paul, Mike Coffman (AP/Timothy D. Easley/Carolyn Kaster)

Earlier this year, Senate Republicans blocked a vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act because, according to the official GOP line, it "doesn’t provide paycheck fairness for women." (Nailed it, GOP communications team.) But all these months later, the Senate has advanced the equal pay measure for debate. This doesn't actually mean that it will pass, since the GOP still thinks the proposal, which would ban retaliation against employees who share salary information and impose harsher penalties on employers who discriminate based on gender, is a "desperate political ploy." (Rand Paul, for his part, thinks it's a communist plot.)

And since we're on the topic of desperate political ploys, Colorado Rep. Cory Gardner still thinks that making oral contraceptives available over the counter is a meaningful way to expand access to reproductive healthcare.

These two things are related, of course. Gardner was among the House Republicans to block a vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would, in addition to letting employees openly discuss their salaries, require the Department of Labor to collect wage data and require employers to explain wage disparities between men and women in the same jobs.

Other Republicans attempting to seem pro-woman by embracing over-the-counter oral contraceptives have similar records. North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis, who is running against Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, blocked a similar measure in the state Legislature. Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman, who supports over-the-counter access to certain kinds of contraception even though he can't always remember the words "birth control," voted against the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009 and joined Gardner is blocking a vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act.

So essentially the GOP's new position (at least among some in the party) is that it would like women to buy birth control with all the money they aren't getting paid.

Birth control is expensive. Oral contraceptives can be a reoccurring monthly cost of as much as $130 in some places. And Gardner et al. don't have any plan to make other forms of birth control -- like the highly effective but costly copper IUD -- accessible to women who want them. And because Gardner opposes the Affordable Care Act and wants to defund reproductive health providers like Planned Parenthood, it seems he wants women to take the pill for basically every medical concern they may have, since without insurance or access to affordable family planning clinics, women won't be able to see a doctor if they need to. So unless Gardner thinks that taking Ortho-Tri-Cyclen fixes broken legs or is a good substitute for cancer screenings, he's doing basically nothing to support women's access to healthcare.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the organizations behind the idea the GOP is pushing so hard, have called out Republicans for advocating the OTC option without meaningfully addressing barriers to access -- like insurance and affordability. "OTC availability of oral contraceptives will help more women get the contraceptives they need, which have long been proven safe enough to use without a prescription -- especially emergency contraception," ACOG President John C. Jennings said in a statement. "We feel strongly, however, that OTC access to contraceptives should be part of a broader dialogue about improving women's health care, preventing unintended pregnancies, and increasing use of contraception, including long-acting reversible contraception (LARC). Over-the-counter access should not be used as a political tool by candidates or by elected officials."

And while the GOP seems to think that the gender wage gap is a collective delusion shared by Democrats and feminists, it's actually real. And there are actually policy solutions to address it. According to a breakdown of median weekly salaries from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women earn less than men in all but seven of nearly 600 listed occupations.

The GOP seems content to keep healthcare expensive and out of reach for millions of women. They are equally comfortable with paying women less for equal work. A procedural vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act probably won't change that.

"I’d like to say with a straight face that Republicans have done a 180 and now would like to support legislation that gives women and their families a fair shot," Democratic Sen. Patty Murray told Emily Crockett at RH Reality Check. "But it remains to be seen if they’re truly interested in working with us to get this done.”

I'd go one further and say it's pretty clear that they're not.

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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Cory Gardner Equal Pay Fair Pay Gender Wage Gap Gop Mike Coffman Republicans Thom Tillis