Slowly but surely, California is taking steps to improve women’s access to contraception. Back in 2013, the state passed a bill that greatly expanded the role of pharmacists, allowing them to provide women with birth control. The bill is now finally nearing implementation.
Last week, according to NPR, the California Board of Pharmacy met to review the law, which should come into effect later this year. Considering Gov. Jerry Brown (D) approved the bill in October 2013, this latest development is a big step forward.
California’s Board of Pharmacy says it has been working out the details of the legislation—for example, reviewing the “screening protocols” behind contraceptive access, which has delayed the implementation process. To receive birth control from their pharmacy under the law, women will need to fill out a form, consult with the pharmacist and have their blood pressure taken. Those praising the legislation say that women will simply be able to go to their regular pharmacy and walk out with birth control prescribed and filled. Similar legislation already exists in Washington and Oregon.
The Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate has been bringing attention to women’s lack of contraceptive access. All FDA-approved forms of birth control are supposed to be covered under the ACA, but reports highlight how often insurance companies ignore the law and unfairly charge women for contraception.
Recently, the Department of Health and Human Services issued stricter guidelines to make it clear that insurance companies cannot deny women contraception. Laws like California’s SB 493—the pharmacist bill—will hugely increase women’s access to certain forms of birth control as both cost and accessibility are improved. Studies have shown that, for low-income women, access to over-the-counter oral contraceptives significantly reduces risk of pregnancy.
As it stands, SB 493 is a complement to the ACA. It works in tandem with the ACA’s requirement that insurance companies cover birth control by broadening the scope of who can prescribe contraception.
There are two pieces of federal legislation before Congress that could also expand or contract access to birth control. One bill, proposed by Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), “offers incentives to drug companies to gain FDA approval to sell contraception over the counter,” but doesn’t provide insurance coverage for the OTC birth control, likely making it unattainable for many women. Just this Tuesday, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) responded with a bill of her own that would provide OTC birth control and ensure that it’s covered by insurance companies.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Allen licensed under Creative Commons 2.0
Emma Niles is a recent graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz and an editorial intern at Ms. Follow Emma on Twitter @emmalorinda.