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Hirono, Colleagues Reintroduce Bicameral Legislation to Expand Access to Over-the-Counter Birth Control

WASHINGTON, D.C. Today, U.S. Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) joined Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) in reintroducing the Affordability is Access Act, bicameral legislation that would ensure that once the FDA approves an over-the-counter birth control option, insurers must fully cover over-the-counter birth control without any out-of-pocket costs. Companion legislation was also introduced in the House by Representatives Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and Ami Bera (D-CA).

“At a time when Republicans across the country are fighting to ban abortion nationwide—bans that disproportionately harm people of color, people with low incomes, and LGBTQ people—it is critical that we ensure every person who needs it can access and afford contraception,” said Senator Hirono. “That FDA advisory panel vote to approve the first ever over-the-counter birth control application is a historic step forward in the fight to expand access to birth control, and I hope the FDA will act without delay to accept the panel’s recommendation. But as we know, access alone without affordability is not true access. That’s why we need to pass this legislation to help ensure everyone who needs it can access birth control, regardless of their income.”

The bill introduction comes after two FDA Advisory Committees’ unanimous vote last week recommending that FDA move forward to approve the first-ever application for over-the-counter birth control. Recent polling has found that nearly 8 in 10 voters have a favorable view of birth control pills and more than 7 in 10 support making the pill available over-the-counter. The Affordability is Access Act addresses the reality that for many—especially those with the tightest budgets—true access requires affordability.

Under the Affordable Care Act, all private health insurance plans are required to fully cover—without copays or out-of-pocket costs—all U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved, granted, or cleared methods of contraception. The Affordability is Access Act would ensure that this also applies to over-the-counter birth control. The bill would also maintain the FDA’s sole authority to determine the safety and efficacy of drugs and make them available over the counter without a prescription, and ensure retailers provide contraception without a prescription. The legislation states that any retailer that stocks contraception that the FDA has approved, granted, or cleared without a prescription may not interfere with a consumer’s access to or purchase of such contraception.

The Senate bill is co-sponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jack Reed (D-RI), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Peter Welch (D-VT), Tina Smith (D-MN), John Fetterman (D-PA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

The Affordability is Access Act is endorsed by: Contraceptive Access Initiative (CAI), National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA), National Health Law Program, Upstream USA, Reproductive Health Access Project, American Humanist Association, Physicians for Reproductive Health, National Partnership for Women & Families, Healthy Teen Network, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Jacobs Institute of Women's Health, The National Organization for Women, NARAL Pro-Choice America, The American College of Nurse-Midwives, Coalition to Expand Contraceptive Access (CECA), The Guttmacher Institute, Power to Decide, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, The National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health (NPWH), National Coalition of STD Directors, Ibis Reproductive Health, Population Connection Action Fund, The Center for Biological Diversity, National Council of Jewish Women, Collaborative, Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, National Women’s Law Center, American Public Health Association, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, Advocates for Youth, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, The Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs, Catholics for Choice, and In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda.

The full text of the bill is available here.

A long-time champion for abortion access, Senator Hirono is committed to protecting the fundamental right to abortion care for all. Earlier this year, she led a letter to Danco Laboratories, a manufacturer of mifepristone, urging them to submit an application to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to add miscarriage management to the medication’s label—which currently only includes medication abortion but can also be safely and legally used for miscarriage management. In November, she also sent a letter to the FDA Commissioner encouraging the agency to defend Americans’ reproductive rights, and to consider steps to protect and expand access to medication abortion. Last August, Senator Hirono also sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) urging concrete action to help meet President Biden’s goal of protecting and expanding access to medication abortion.  In July, Senator Hirono introduced the Right to Contraception Act, as well as the Expanding Access to Family Planning Actto protect access to critical reproductive health care services, like birth control, and cancer screenings.