Oregon & California Move Towards Prescription-Free Birth Control Access

Photo: Antti Aimo-Koivisto/REX Shutterstock.
Update: As of January 1, 2016, women in Oregon no longer need to get birth control prescriptions from their doctor.

This article was originally published on November 22, 2015.
Now this sounds enviably convenient: In California and Oregon, you should soon be able to get birth control straight from your pharmacist, without a prescription from a doctor. That's a move that's really likely to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies in those states, particularly for low-income women. So why isn't everyone jumping up and down in celebration?

According to the New York Times, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is concerned that the laws enabling pharmacists to prescribe the pill, patches, and rings might actually make it harder to pass laws to make all contraception available over the counter, without a prescription. "My basic tenet is there should be nobody between the patient and the pill," Dr. Mark DeFrancesco, ACOG's president, told the Times. "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.”

That, at least, makes more sense than the older argument, which said that women should be required to have a prescription in order to encourage them to visit their doctors and be screened for cervical cancer and other gynecological health issues. "We were holding pregnancy prevention hostage to cancer screening," obstetrician Nancy Stanwood, chairwoman of the board of Physicians for Reproductive Health, told the Times, adding that a study of women in Texas who got their contraception over the counter in Mexico were still visiting their Ob/Gyn for Pap smears.

The third objection has to do with cost, either to the pharmacist or the patient. In order to prescribe the medication themselves, they'll have to spend time administering questionnaires and discussing different options with patients. They could charge fees for their time, so we're right back to the cost barrier for some women.

These complexities could be the reason California has been waiting to enact the law. It passed back in 2013. According to the Orange County Register, that state's pharmacy board finalized its protocols for prescribing contraceptives and, as of June, was waiting for approval from other state agencies. Oregon's law, which was passed over the summer, is scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2016.

Meanwhile, federal legislators are still working on the OTC approach. Senator Patty Murray spoke to Refinery29 earlier this year about her Affordability IS Access Act, which would make contraception available over the counter while also requiring insurance companies to pay for it (as opposed to a Republican bill, which would leave payment up to the consumer).
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