Oregon and California have announced groundbreaking new laws that would allow increased access to reliable birth control for women. As the New York Times reported Nov. 22, the two states will soon allow women to receive birth control and contraceptives from their pharmacist without a doctor’s prescription. The two states have long been progressive in their approach to female reproductive rights, with lawmakers in each state pushing for better women’s health options.
Until now, federal law has required a doctor’s prescription to obtain hormonal contraceptives. The new laws in Oregon and California will make receiving those contraceptives for women as simple as heading to a pharmacy and filling out a brief questionnaire. The effort seeks to minimize unintended pregnancies, which account for about half of the 6.6 million annual pregnancies in the United States.
The new laws, which go into effect within the next few months, would still allow women to use their existing health insurance to cover the contraception costs. Moreover, the new legislation will make access to contraceptives generally more affordable and certainly more accessible — goals that women’s health advocates and medical professionals have been demanding for years. Republican State Rep. Knute Buehler, who sponsored Oregon’s iteration of the law, told the Times, “I feel strongly that this is what’s best for women’s health in the 21st century and I also feel it will have repercussions for decreasing poverty, because one of the key things for women in poverty is unintended pregnancy.”
Beyond lawmakers and medical professionals, women have a vested interest in these latest over-the-counter contraceptives. In 2013, Reuters reported that about 30 percent of women who use no birth control, or less effective birth control, would take the pill if it was sold without a prescription, considering the high cost of simply seeing a doctor. Moreover, two-thirds of women supported over-the-counter contraception legislation. Now, after two years, women in Oregon and California can finally realize that option.
As the laws take hold in the coming months, lawmakers across the country will be taking a look at the two states as models for possible over-the-counter contraception efforts throughout the rest of the United States. Physicians for Reproductive Health Chairwoman Dr. Nancy Stanwood told the Times, “We need to think outside of that old-fashioned box that just doesn’t apply to women’s lives now.”