California will be following Oregon’s lead in March when a new law will enable pharmacists to directly prescribe hormonal contraceptives, making birth control accessible to women without a trip to the doctor. This new approach will not exactly be “over the counter” because pharmacists will complete a screening process before prescribing the medication this process will determine whether the pill is right for women who request it. California’s law will not pose an age restriction on the purchase of contraception, in the hope that teenage girls will have better access to this type of contraception.
Whether the new adjustment for contraception is to reduce reliance on healthcare providers or just to make pregnancy prevention more available, it is clearly making effective means of birth control more convenient for all women. However, opponents of this convenience expose legitimate disadvantages regarding over-the-counter birth control.
A person’s relationship with his or her healthcare provider is one that provides a wide range of care and support beyond just birth control. When a doctor prescribes a woman with hormonal contraception, she is asked to come back for a checkup where she can ask questions, request a different form of the medication, be checked for sexually transmitted diseases and more. Unlike pharmacists, doctors, especially gynecologists, can address these issues with tests and advice.
While research on over-the-counter pills provides valid concerns, it also lends support to the argument of many advocates who still believe the benefits of pharmacist-prescribed contraception outweigh the risks as it reduces unintended pregnancies. Many professionals also seem to be on board with the new law, citing the lack of risks associated with birth control.
“The science on this is clear: The [birth control] pill is one of the best-studied medicines on the market today, and it’s certainly safe enough to be available without a prescription,” vice president for research at Ibis Reproductive Health Daniel Grossman wrote in the L.A. Times.
As long as women are responsible about keeping up their reproductive health with a doctor, this legislation is a huge step for women’s rights. The need to prevent pregnancies is not a sickness to be treated by a physician, but a basic preventative care measure that women can go about getting on their own, given easy access. This availability will be especially beneficial for people in rural areas without access to local clinics, Planned Parenthoods (assuming funding continues) or free reproductive care providers.
One issue that the new California law does not address is the cost of contraception. Making contraception accessible is not the same thing as making it affordable and therefore obtainable. For the uninsured, birth control pills will cost between $20 to $50 per month.
In an ideal world, effective forms of birth control would be free and available for all financial situations. One of the closest things we have to that world is Planned Parenthood, which provides affordable healthcare, including pregnancy prevention, STD treatments, pap tests, breast exams and much more. Planned Parenthood is a resource that is often essential to adolescent girls who either need quick or affordable contraception or do not want record of their reproductive health measures getting back to their parents.
So while pharmacist-prescribed contraception in California will be convenient for a huge array of women, cost will remain an issue, as will the potential defunding of Planned Parenthood which supports lower income families and young people. Nonetheless, California is taking a step in a progressive direction, making fundamental preventative care more available to a wide range of people. After all, effective birth control should not be a privilege. It should be a right.