Western states lead effort to let pharmacists prescribe birth control

Groundbreaking laws in two Western states will soon make access to birth control easier for millions of women by allowing them to obtain contraceptives from pharmacists without a doctor’s prescription.

Even as the Supreme Court prepares to consider another divisive case involving access to contraception, public health advocates hope these arrangements could spread across the country, as states grappling with persistently high rates of unintended pregnancy seek to increase access to birth control with measures that so far have been unavailable under federal law.

Most Western countries require a doctor’s prescription for hormonal contraceptives like pills, patches and rings, but starting sometime in the next few months, women in California and Oregon will be able to obtain these types of birth control by getting a prescription directly from the pharmacist who dispenses them, a more convenient and potentially less expensive option than going to the doctor.

Pharmacists will be authorized to prescribe contraceptives after a quick screening process in which women fill out a questionnaire about their health and medical histories. The contraceptives will be covered by insurance, as they are now…

About half of the 6.6 million pregnancies annually in the United States are unintended, a higher proportion than in Europe.

But, EU nations aren’t often controlled by fundamentalist Christian voting blocs.

Reproductive health groups and medical associations increasingly say the ultimate goal should be to make contraceptives available without a prescription, and some worry that the push for pharmacist-prescribed contraceptives could thwart that…

Cost is another possible drawback of over-the-counter sales. The Affordable Care Act does not explicitly require plans to cover over-the-counter medications, so women might wind up paying hundreds of dollars a year for over-the-counter birth control instead of obtaining it free with a prescription…

A New Mexico proposal that failed in 2012 is expected to be revised to reflect the Oregon and California measures, said Dale Tinker, the executive director of the New Mexico Pharmacists Association…

One unanswered question, however, is whether insurers will pay for the time pharmacists spend reviewing women’s questionnaires or helping evaluate options…

And then there will be the states ruled by politicians who believe the Old Testament is a better gauge of how a women’s life should be governed.

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