Recent legislation at the state level suggests that the debate on birth control in the U.S. may be shifting.
As the battle surrounding access to contraceptives through healthcare providers continues to rage, two states have taken matters into their own hands. According to a report from the New York Times, new laws in California and Oregon will allow folks to pick up birth control without a prescription at any pharmacy.
Advocates hope that the new laws will catch on in other states around the country, taking the wind from the sails of legislators trying to restrict access to birth control. The United States is plagued by astronomical rates of teenage and unintended pregnancy, and the law has done little to address this issue.
The majority of countries in the West require a doctor’s prescription for hormonal birth control pills, patches and rings, but these products will be available at the pharmacist’s office in California and Oregon within the next few months. This saves time and money for people seeking to gain access to contraception.
Pharmacists will be able to dole out contraceptives after a potential customer completes a brief screening questionnaire answering questions about their medical history. Insurance will still cover contraceptive costs, like it currently does.
The laws are one of the first major pushes at the state level to make access to birth control more widely available. Unlike most discussions of access to birth control, however, including the national debate over the Obama administration’s clause that requires healthcare plans under the Affordable Care Act to include coverage for contraceptives, the political process following the two laws was almost completely free of partisan debate.
According to Oregon State Representative Knute Buehler, a Republican who supported the effort, “I feel strongly that this is what’s best for women’s health in the 21st Century, and I also feel it will have repercussions for decreasing poverty because one of the key things for women in poverty is unintended pregnancy.”
Roughly half of pregnancies in the U.S., about 3.3 million every year, are unintended. This level greatly exceeds the rate of unintended pregnancies in Europe. Advocates continue to strive towards the goal of making contraceptives available without a prescription. Many people worry that the two new laws will distract from this objective, and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is leading the charge against the laws, calling for quicker progress.
According to Dr. Mark DeFrancesco, the organization’s president, “My basic tenet is there should be nobody between the patient and the pill. I’m afraid we’re going to create a new model that becomes a barrier between that and over the counter. I worry that it’s going to derail the over-the-counter movement.”
A press release describing the details of the new laws can be found here.