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Democrats, Republicans offer competing birth control bills

Democrats and Republicans are once again fighting over birth control. At first glance, the two sides appear to be aiming for the same goal: over-the-counter access to contraceptive pills.

Last month, a group of Republicans led by Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Cory Gardner of Colorado rolled out legislation that would encourage drug manufacturers to apply with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to sell their routine-use contraceptives over the counter, rather than through a doctor's prescription. The bill, called the Allowing Greater Access to Safe and Effective Contraception Act, would give those manufacturers priority review with the FDA and waive the FDA filing fee.

"It's time to allow women the ability to make their own decisions about safe, effective, and long-established methods of contraception," Gardner said said in a statement. "Most other drugs with such a long history of safe and routine use are available for purchase over the counter, and contraception should join them."

The bill would also amend part of Obamacare so that women could use health, medical, and flexible savings accounts to purchase their contraception over the counter.

Here's where Democrats object: The Affordable Care Act already requires insurers to cover the cost of contraceptive pills. Consequently, they argue that the GOP bill would actually make birth control more expensive.

"If it's too expensive, doesn't matter how easy it is to get--it might as well be on the moon," Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington said via Twitter with respect to the GOP bill.

In response to Ayotte's and Gardner's bill, Murray on Tuesday introduced the Affordability Is Access Act, which would also allow FDA-approved contraceptive pills to be sold over the counter. It would also guarantee that any daily birth control bill approved for over-the-counter sale would be covered by health insurance.

Reproductive rights groups commended Murray's bill. Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement that "other proposals are a cheap ploy by politicians seeking to distract from their anti-choice records."

Gardner did, in fact, end up endorsing over-the-counter birth control during his 2014 Senate race after Democrats made "women's issues" like contraception a major focus of the race. The tactic didn't work, and Gardner defeated incumbent Sen. Mark Udall.

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