Over-the-Counter Access to Birth Control, and the Affirmative Consent Controversy in California

On this episode of Reality Cast, I chat with Gretchen Borchelt of the National Women's Law Center about the new wave of attacks on contraception post-Hobby Lobby. In another segment, I discuss how anti-choice politicians are championing over-the-counter birth control pills. Also, there's more controversy over the affirmative consent bill in California.

Related Links

Rachel Maddow on Ray Rice

OTC birth control?

“Yes Means Yes” bill

Limbaugh busts out creaky old “no means yes” canard

Young Turks respond

Russell Pearce steps in it again


On this episode of Reality Cast, a lawyer from the National Women’s Law Center will explain some of the frightening new attacks on contraception post-Hobby Lobby. Some anti-choice politicians are calling for over-the-counter birth control pills, but is their plan all it’s cracked up to be? And more controversy over the affirmative consent bill in California.

The Ray Rice story is continuing to unfold, which is kind of amazing since most discussions about domestic violence rarely get more than a centimeter deep in the United States. Rachel Maddow talked some with sports reporter Shira Springer about it.

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The problem is the NFL keeps seeing domestic violence as a PR problem, and not a criminal or social problem. Until that changes, I don’t imagine we’ll be seeing much improvement.


It’s a trend that’s only cropping up this year specifically for Senate races in swing states, but it’s nonetheless a strange one: Republican, anti-choice conservatives who have decided they support over-the-counter birth control pills. NPR did a great segment on this issue and why it’s suddenly become a thing.

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Okay, let’s get one very important issue out of the way first: Over-the-counter birth control is actually a good idea. Not all birth control, of course, because things like the IUD or an implant will always need a health-care worker to actually put it in your body. But the pill is sold over-the-counter in places like Mexico, where it’s actually associated with better usage because it does, indeed, make it easier to get. The ideal situation in the U.S. would be to do what we’re doing now, where most birth control is available through a prescription and offered without a copay for those who need it. But it would also be available without a prescription and just on the shelf. That would be great for women who can’t make it to a doctor right now and need some pills to tide you over. Ever been on vacation and lost your pills? Moved and didn’t have time to make a doctor’s appointment? Just plain forgot to re-up your prescription? This would help.

But that’s not what these guys want to do. They’re just offering this idea is lieu of having insurance coverage of contraception. The argument is that you don’t need insurance coverage of contraception, because you could, in theory, buy your pills over the counter. This ignores many basic and pressing facts about the issue, such as the fact that some kinds of contraception like the IUD will never be available over the counter. It also assumes, incorrectly, that everyone can afford the over-the-counter costs. It’s actually so thoughtless to think you can just exchange one for the other that it reeks of a gross and transparent political move, which is exactly what Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood told NPR it is.

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A few cynical conservative media sources have latched onto Planned Parenthood’s denunciations of this move to argue that Planned Parenthood is somehow against greater access to birth control. I don’t know who they think they’re fooling with that weak attempt at a gotcha, but as NPR notes, Planned Parenthood is all for making it easier to get the pill and has even started telemedicine programs on the West Coast in order to make it easier for women to get the pill without seeing a doctor in person. What Planned Parenthood is against is offering this as some kind of alternative to insurance coverage of contraception, since that would leave low-income women without much access.

What was really shocking was that the Republican spokeswoman they spoke to basically came right out and characterizes this not as a sincere policy move, but simply a political ploy to confuse the issue of health care and contraception access.

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Her focus is strictly on trying to “neutralize and defang” the opposition’s talking points, and she didn’t even really try to pretend to care about women’s actual health-care needs. Here’s the thing that’s most important to remember about this issue: The men who are rolling out this over-the-counter birth control line are all running for Senate. That means that, even if they win, they have no power, none, to make this happen. The people who have the power to approve drugs for over-the-counter sale are all FDA officials that are hired through the executive branch. You know, people who answer to the president and not really the Congress. It doesn’t really matter if these men are sincere when they say they believe it should be over the counter, because they can’t do anything to make that happen.




One common complaint aimed at feminists these days is that we have basically done all we need to do and are coming up with new problems to justify our existence. This complaint should be laughable on its surface, but if you have any doubts, the debate over California’s “affirmative consent” bill should put them all to rest. Reuters did a short video explaining the bill, which has been nicknamed the “Yes Means Yes” bill.

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The only bad thing about this bill is it doesn’t go far enough, because it only covers university disciplinary systems and not criminal proceedings. It requires schools to define “consent” as, well, consent. Sex would be considered an opt-in sort of thing, not an opt-out. You don’t have to have sex unless you want to. And if someone else has sex with you when you don’t want to, that’s their fault, not yours, much in the same way that it’s someone else’s fault if they come into your house uninvited and not your fault for say, not buying a big dog that bites intruders. And just as we understand that you can be invited into someone’s house both verbally or with hand gestures, the affirmative consent standard merely requires that both people are interested in having the sex throughout the sex. No specific wording is required. It’s just there so rapists can’t argue that it’s not sexual assault because she didn’t say no. Or didn’t say it loudly enough or didn’t say it often enough or didn’t say it in the exact words they want to hear. It simply says that it’s on you to make sure you aren’t having sex with people who don’t want sex with you.

Unfortunately, a lot of critics of this bill start with the assumption that men are entitled to sex and that it’s asking too much of them to give up that sense of entitlement long enough to make sure their partners want sex, too. Or, in Rush Limbaugh’s case, he was willing to argue against even the no-means-no standard, saying that just because she has refused consent does not mean you can’t have sex with her if you want. Just make an executive decision that you decide what her words mean, not her!

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Here’s the thing that bugs me about that argument: So what? Even if some women say “no” but mean “yes,” so what? If you’re in a situation and a woman is saying no, why on earth do you think it’s better to run the risk of raping her than to run the risk that you don’t have sex? Is your entitlement to sex such that you think it’s better to take that risk than just wait until you have more clarity? What’s the worst that could happen if you wait or even, god forbid, ask for clarity? That you discover that the no was sincere and you don’t get laid? Well, at least you didn’t rape someone. It’s just so aggravating. Let’s say there are women out there who do play games and say “no” when they mean yes. I believe that happens, though not as much as Limbaugh says. Well, if you find yourself making out with such a woman, men, then the thing to do is not guess that she means “yes” with that “no” and risk raping her, legally and morally. The thing to do is not have sex with her. If she’s playing games, then that will teach her not to play games. Simple as that. Someone who plays games with something as serious as consent is really not someone you should be wanting to have sex with. That’s dumb and, if you misread the situation, criminal. Why not move onto someone who is more sensible?

Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks struck back.

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He really nails what’s going on here. A lot of what’s going on is an attempt to codify what is, to be blunt, already understood amongst people who aren’t sexual predators. Most men easily grasp the idea that, for instance, if you start kissing someone and reaching under her shirt and she pulls away or looks displeased, it’s best to stop. You might ask if something’s wrong or just give up altogether, but the idea of pushing on while someone else is not signaling her shared enjoyment of the moment is screwed up. At best, it’s treating someone like a masturbation object, but it can also turn into assault. This is common sense. But rapists and apologists want to confuse the issue so that they can attack people and say, hey, I didn’t knoooooooowwwwww, after the fact. No wonder they are all riled up at any attempt to take that excuse away from them.


And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, forcible sterilization edition. Russell Pearce used to be in the Arizona legislature, before his brand of cranky old man racist wingnuttery got to be too much even for Arizona voters. Now he’s a radio host and it appears he hasn’t learned anything.

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It’s bad enough reading this quote, but his tone makes searingly clear how hateful he really is. He was basically pressured into resigning his position as the vice chair of the Arizona Republican Party after this. Hopefully, it will be the last we hear from him.