Ladies, have you ever wished you could obtain birth control as easily as men have for years, by simply walking into the store and purchasing contraception – no prescription, no age restrictions, no hassle? Soon, it will be that simple in some states. Extensive studies of various forms of contraception have proven that the methods are safe, so safe that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggested that they be made available over the counter.
In 2013, California passed a state law giving licensed pharmacists authorization to prescribe self-administered hormonal contraceptives without the need to see a physician. Shortly after, Oregon signed a similar bill supporting the effort. If the regulations pass as planned, California law will take effect as early as this year and Oregon law after January 1, 2016, making them the first states in the nation to allow women access to birth control pills and other hormonal contraceptives over the counter.
Although not all state-specific rules have been developed, both states require pharmacists to perform a health screening to women and take their blood pressure before dispensing any birth control. In California, there will be no age restrictions on patients, thereby granting minors the same access as adults. In Oregon, however, new birth control prescriptions can only be given to women 18 or older unless proof of prior birth control prescriptions from a physician are provided. It is also likely that Oregon pharmacists will be required to undergo more training than the one hour of education required of California pharmacists.
These laws are seen as a major breakthrough for women and the healthcare industry overall. Previously, women had to undergo a physical exam or a Pap smear before being prescribed, and pharmacists could only provide emergency contraception (“morning-after pill”) without a doctor’s prescription. Advocates perceive the laws as a way to expand access to birth control not only by providing convenience, but also by “de-medicalizing” the pill, as contraception relates more to wellness than it does to sickness.
Pharmacists also anticipate the ability to use more of the training they received in school, as they are being seen more as health care providers than dispensers of medication. Due to increased patient demand and a shortage of physicians since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the medical community has identified pharmacists as an “underutilized resource.”
Some local independent pharmacies do not see the demand for the new service and do not plan to start offering birth control prescriptions, while others, such as CVS Pharmacy, are waiting to see the approved regulations before deciding whether to offer the new services. An increase in the use of online pharmacies may be seen as pharmacists attempt to provide women with the contraception method they desire. Other states are likely to follow California and Oregon’s approaches to remove the barriers women face in gaining access to birth control and other reproductive health care as the issue gains more popularity.