CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For women's health advocates in West Virginia, last month's election was a political potpourri. The national level wins were clear: Women were elected to the Senate in huge number; chauvinists belonging to "Team Rape," like failed U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin, who chose to insult and hurt women by attempting to redefine rape -- as if there is a "legitimate" kind of rape! -- were sent to the curb. President Barack Obama, a clear supporter of reproductive health rights for women, was resoundingly elected to a second term.
On the state level, the results were mixed. Although we lost valued longtime women's health advocates at the statehouse, we also gained new members who were endorsed by the WV FREE Action Fund because of their support for the full range of reproductive health care -- including access to birth control, abortion and maternity coverage.
Beyond counting winners and losers, the most important lesson from this election is that candidates running against women's health did not carry the day. We learned that while there are a lot of zealots out there who oppose birth control and abortion access even for a woman in the direst of crises, they are not the winners. They are not mainstream America or hometown West Virginia.
The curtain has been pulled back and the public now sees the mental machinations of those in the anti-women's health movement. Yes, many of them believe that it's God's will that women bear the children of rapists (see failed Indiana U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, who said that "even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen"). Or, if a woman and her family are trying to plan their family by using birth control, it's simply morally wrong (enter former presidential hopeful Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania). And there is the simple fact that some are so radical that they believe anyone who has a moderate opinion on these subjects should be sidelined by their own party as too soft (Mitt Romney).
It is also clear from this election that Americans support birth control. So does the health-care field. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the nation's leading pediatrics organization is now encouraging doctors to discuss emergency birth control (also known as the morning after pill or "EC") with teenagers -- and further suggests that they send girls home with prescriptions for it. Prior to the announcement from the pediatric community, another well-respected association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, suggested it's time to make birth control accessible without a prescription.
It is time to get this squared away right now. We must engage public conversation about making EC available without restriction. We cannot afford another decade of political delays when it comes to common sense measures to improve a woman's health. West Virginians especially can't afford to wait when, according to the Centers for Disease Control, our teen pregnancy rate recently outpaced all other states in the nation when every other state saw a decline.
Notably, one year ago today the Food and Drug Administration was poised to announce that EC had been approved for on-the-shelf access, meaning it could appear at your local pharmacy between condoms and pregnancy test kits. But, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stepped in at the last minute and ruled that EC must remain behind-the-counter. That decision led to confusion and unnecessary obstacles for women, teens, and couples at the very * Health-care providers and teens are misinformed about the age restrictions applied to EC over the counter (currently 17) or told that teens could not get the product at all (not true).
* Men are told by pharmacists in several states around the country that they cannot buy EC (not true), presenting obstacles and delays when timing matters.