DENVER (AP) -- Democratic Sen. Mark Udall expressed skepticism Friday about his challenger's proposal to allow birth control pills to be sold without a prescription, as contraception issues continued to dominate the competitive contest.
Udall made the remarks in response to a question at a news conference to highlight his latest foray into the volatile politics of birth control. He has co-authored a bill to reverse last week's Supreme Court decision that allows closely held companies with religious objections to provide employee health insurance that doesn't cover all forms of contraception.
Udall said Republican Rep. Cory Gardner's idea for over-the-counter sales of oral contraceptives "has some merit" but "isn't necessarily the way to go."
"I believe it would put more barriers to women's health and contraception," Udall said, noting that under President Barack Obama's health overhaul, birth control is free for consumers, so costs would rise if oral contraceptives were available over-the-counter at retail prices.
Gardner's campaign reacted with disbelief, noting that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists had also proposed making birth control pills available without a prescription. Spokesman Alex Siciliano said Udall's reaction "shows he is more concerned with his own political health than women's health."
Udall has cast himself as a champion of women's rights and rebuked Gardner for backing a measure to grant legal rights to a fertilized egg, which some argued could ban popular forms of contraception. Gardner, who has disavowed at least one of those proposals, last month countered with his proposal on birth control pills.
Udall wasn't alone in raising concerns about possible cost increases under Gardner's plan. Reproductive rights proponents also warned that women could pay more for retail birth control than forms prescribed by a physician.
"It masquerades as a solution, but it is not one," said Vicki Cowart, president of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.
Indeed, while the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists does recommend some over-the-counter forms of birth control, including oral contraceptives, it also warns that the approach could increase the cost and must be coupled with no-cost contraception through insurance coverage.
At the news conference, Udall and the reproductive rights groups decried the politicization of birth control.
"Access to reproductive services and planning is not a political issue," Udall said. "It is a health and economic issue."
Siciliano said Udall's coolness to Gardner's proposal contradicts that.
"We can only conclude that Mark Udall is desperate to keep this as a political issue instead of solving the problem," he said.
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