Lawmakers in Oregon and California have implemented measures that will allow women to obtain birth control pills directly from pharmacies over-the-counter, without a doctor’s prescription.In Oregon, the new law took effect on January 1, and provides access to hormonal birth control—including pills and patches—for woman age 18 or older. California’s similar regulations will begin in March, but don’t have an age restriction.
Legislation allowing the move was signed by Oregon Governor Kate Brown last summer
But it won’t be grab-and-go medicine on drugstore shelves the way, for example, ibuprofen and antacids are sold. Women over 18 who’d like to purchase oral contraceptives or hormonal patches to reduce their chances of becoming pregnant will be required to provide written health information first. Then a pharmacist who has received special training will review it and decide whether to give the green light. If there are health concerns, the woman will need to see her doctor for medical approval.
California passed similar legislation that will make the products available in that state without a doctor’s prescription in March. And lawmakers in Colorado and Washington have also proposed versions of Oregon’s new law, according to local news reports.
It’s a positive step that improves access for women, Dr. Mark DeFrancesco, president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told CBS News.
“The pill has been around for about 55 years now. It’s very safe,” said DeFrancesco.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see more states follow,” he said when asked if other states would be influenced by the Oregon legislation.
He believes the benefits of making the pill more available to women outweigh any risks.
While there’s a slightly increased risk for stroke and deep vein thrombosis in women who take birth control pills, he said, “In my 30 years of practice, I’ve seen rarely — rarely — deep vein thrombosis or stroke.”
He said pregnancy also increases the risk for those conditions and while it’s still low, the risk is higher during pregnancy than while taking the pill.
The pill offers some women benefits as well, including lighter and less painful periods, and a reduced risk for ovarian cancer and fallopian tube cancer (though these conditions are fairly rare). The risk of developing both are cut in half in people who have taken the pill for at least five years, DeFrancesco said. Women with endometriosis may also get pain relief by taking oral contraceptives.
De Francesco said ACOG would like to see the availability of oral contraceptives opened up even further for women.
“It’s a step in right direction to have the pharmacist involved. But we don’t want it to stop there. We’d like to see unfettered access with appropriate labeling. We have great respect for pharmacists, but it’s still behind the counter. There’s still a barrier between patient and pills,” said DeFrancesco.
There are about four million births in the U.S. every year, and roughly half of those are known to be unintended, DeFrancesco said — “Not necessarily unwanted, but unintended.”
In Oregon and California, pharmacies were already allowed to provide emergency contraception without a prescription.
DeFrancesco said easier access to birth control pills could help reduce the number of abortions. According to the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 699,202 legal induced abortions were reported in 2012.
“There’s no question the vast majority of abortions in this country are from the unintended pregnancy pool. If we can decrease unintended pregnancies by increasing pill access, we’d likely decrease abortion,” said DeFrancesco.
There are a variety of birth control pills and patches on the market. DeFrancesco said the types and levels of hormones vary by product.
Under the state’s new law, licensed pharmacists should receive the appropriate training before they can consult female patients who want to get birth control pills. In addition, once the pharmacist dispenses the pills, she needs to make sure that the patient gives details about her primary doctor for follow-up.
Women should note that birth control pills do not offer protection against sexually transmitted diseases and they also have their own set of side effects.
Meanwhile, the same OTC ruling for birth control pills applies to California. However, it won’t take effect until March and it was also noted that age restrictions like in Oregon don’t apply in California.
The California ruling was signed in 2013 by Governor Jerry Brown, Newsweek reported. It took this long to enforce it because the state’s Board of Pharmacy has been preparing protocols, which had been finalized in summer.
Not only will California women get ready access to hormonal birth control but also nicotine patches and other prophylactic medications, the news outlet added.
Although the new ruling will allow women to get the pills and patches over-the-counter, they will still need to complete a health questionnaire and submit to blood pressure tests.