Hormonal birth control to be available in local pharmacies without prescription

Rachael Garner/Senior Staff

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Under California legislation, women can now collect hormonal birth control from their pharmacy without a doctor’s prescription — a step that many students believe will increase accessibility to contraception.

Originally passed in 2013, the law was adopted by the state Board of Pharmacy on Friday, although it has yet to be implemented at pharmacies near campus, such as the Tang Center, Walgreens and CVS.

Obtaining birth control will consist of several steps, including a patient interview and questionnaire, selection of a method and a follow-up with the patient’s care provider, according to a statement from Kim LaPean, spokesperson for University Health Services.

“(The legislation) alleviates a lot of the stress and all of the hoops you have to jump through,” said campus junior Cali Mahoney, adding that conversations with parents and families’ cultural norms can create barriers to access.

When the law is implemented, pharmacists will play a greater role in the health delivery system, said Daniel Grossman, director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health and a professor at UC San Francisco. He added that pharmacists are an “underutilized” part of this system.

Self-administered hormonal methods — such as the pill, patch and ring — will be available to patients and may be covered, depending on patients’ insurance plans. But Grossman raised concerns that the costs of added dispersal services by pharmacists could fall on female patients.

Meghan Warner, a campus senior and director of Students for Reproductive Health, Choice, and Justice, said the law has the potential to allow women to “safely choose if and when to have children,” which she said is the “heart of reproductive justice.”

Rachel Morello-Frosch, a campus professor who specializes in environmental health, said the law is significant for increasing accessibility by allowing women to get contraceptives in a timely manner and with fewer steps.

For campus senior Lois Yang, her chief reservation is that improving access could increase women’s risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease if there is seemingly less need for a male partner to wear a condom.

But the “big if” for Warner and others is the affordability of the service. Morello-Frosch said cost may still present a major obstacle to low-income women.

“Regardless of whether or not they need a prescription, for them, the big barrier is cost of the actual form of birth control,” Morello-Frosch said, adding that the cost could be bridged by subsidizing contraception.

There are no age restrictions on securing birth control, but patients will receive medication based on U.S. eligibility criteria for contraceptive use, which accounts for a patient’s medical risk factors.

The exact timeline of implementation is not yet clear. Pharmacists are required to complete a training process, according to LaPean’s statement.

“I definitely see (the law) as a positive step and a recognition that there are still barriers to access to contraception that can easily be overcome,” Grossman said.

LaPean said the Tang Center is evaluating the impact and opportunity of implementing this service.

Contact Hannah Lewis at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hlewis_dc.