Reason-Rupe Public Opinion Survey

Poll: 70% Favor Legalizing Over-The-Counter Birth Control

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The latest Reason-Rupe poll finds 70 percent of Americans favor legalizing over-the-counter birth control pills and patches without a doctor's prescription, 26 percent oppose such a proposal, and 4 percent don't know enough to say. There has been a slight uptick in support for OTC birth control, rising from 66 percent in May of 2013. Moreover, Reason-Rupe finds that women across income groups highly support legalizing OTC birth control at about the same rates.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have announced their support for such a proposal arguing it could improve contraceptive access and use and decrease unintended pregnancy rates. Republicans too have been pushing for this reform, with Democrats surprisingly reluctant.

Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal raised the idea in 2012 in his widely read Wall Street Journal op-ed:

"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. And parents who believe, as I do, that their teenage children shouldn't be involved with sex at all do not deserve ridicule."

Planned Parenthood and some Democrats have pushed back, expressing concerns that legalizing OTC birth control would require women to pay for it, rather than have it paid for by their health insurance premiums. For instance, Rebecca Leber explained:

"For low-income women, cost can be what's most prohibitive. Under the Affordable Care Act, the pill and other forms of contraception count as preventative care, which means insurance covers them completely—without any out-of-pocket expenses."

Planned Parenthood recently released an ad in North Carolina warning: "Just when insurance is finally covering the cost of prescription birth control, Thom Tillis [the Republican] says no—women should pay the $600 dollars a year…he's turning the pill into yet another bill." To be clear, Democrats are not necessarily opposed to legalizing OTC birth control, but rather they want to ensure women don't have to pay for it.

Reason's own Elizabeth Brown has countered:

"Affordability isn't the only factor in making something accessible. Those championing the contraception mandate as a way to increase access assume everyone always has insurance coverage. What about undocumented women? Or those between jobs and temporarily uninsured? What about young women who can't let their parents know they're on the pill? Or domestic abuse victims who want to keep this information from their husbands? These are just a few of the situations in which a woman would find OTC pills much more accessible and affordable than the prescription-only kind, even if those prescription pills came with no co-pay."

Despite costs concerns, OTC birth control legalization receives strong support from women across income groups at roughly the same rates. Among women making less than $30,000 a year, 65 percent support legalization and 35 percent oppose. In the middle, women making between $30K-$60K a year support the proposal 70 to 29 percent. And again, among women making more than $60,000 a year, 67 percent support and 32 percent oppose legalizing OTC birth control.

Men too support legalization, 71 percent to 21 percent, similar to women, 68 to 30 percent.

In addition, support for legalization is high across race and ethnicity. Seventy-two percent of Caucasians, 73 percent of African-Americans, and 61 percent of Hispanics say OTC birth control should be legal.

Legalization has bi-partisan support as well. In fact, Republicans and Democrats support it at roughly the same level (65% and 69% respectively) with Independents even more in favor (74%).

Elite debate over the issue has trickled down to some degree, with libertarians (75%) and conservatives (71%) more in favor than liberals (64%) and communitarians (62%). (Political groups identified using the Reason-Rupe three-question screen).

Despite concerns over the cost of OTC birth control, strong majorities across income groups favor the proposal. For instance, 64 percent of Americans making less than $30,000 annually support legalization as do 69 percent of those making more than $100,000.

The Reason-Rupe national telephone poll, executed by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, conducted live interviews with 1004 adults on cell phones (503) and landlines (501) October 1-6, 2014. The poll's margin of error is +/-3.8%. Full poll results can be found here including poll toplines (pdf)  and crosstabs (xls).