For much of the last two years, Republican policymakers have targeted contraception access in ways unseen in decades, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), eager to position himself as a national party leader, wants the GOP to change course. At least a little, anyway.
In an op-ed published today in the Wall Street Journal, the Republican governor even goes so far as to say oral contraceptives should be sold "over the counter without a prescription."
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. It's a disingenuous political argument they make.
As an unapologetic pro-life Republican, I also believe that every adult (18 years old and over) who wants contraception should be able to purchase it. But anyone who has a religious objection to contraception should not be forced by government health-care edicts to purchase it for others.
It'd be helpful if Jindal explained his policy position in a little more detail, but based on the op-ed, it looks like he's taking one step forward and two steps back.
The good news is, the governor says, as a general policy, he doesn't want to restrict access to contraception -- this automatically puts him to the left of Rick Santorum and his allies -- and sees value in making birth control available over the counter. The op-ed is silent, however, on specific controversies over access to emergency contraception and morning-after pills.
It also does not address the issue of cost. Sure, it's unusual for a Republican with national ambitions to talk about making contraception available without a prescription, but the larger policy argument has been about making preventive health care available to Americans without copays. There's also been a spirited debate over public support for institutions like Planned Parenthood, where so many Americans are able to receive affordable preventive care, and Jindal's op-ed is silent on this, too.
But it's the part about "religious objections" that underscores an even larger problem.
Remember the Blunt Amendment? That was the Republican proposal, named after its lead sponsor, Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, that would have allowed employers who provide health insurance to their employees to decide whether those workers can have access to birth control (or vaccines, or HIV tests, or anything else the boss might find morally objectionable).
Jindal's op-ed says the "government shouldn't be in the business of banning [contraception] or requiring a woman's employer to keep tabs on her use of it." That's nice, but no one is suggesting employers keep tabs on employees' use of contraception. The question is whether those employers can, on a whim, deny employees' contraception access as part of their health insurance plan.
And based on this op-ed, it sounds Jindal still supports the point of the Blunt Amendment.
If Jindal's WSJ piece is supposed to be evidence of progress on women's health care and conservative politics, Republicans still have a ways to go.