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Let Pharmacies Prescribe Birth Control

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Let Pharmacies Prescribe Birth Control


Back in 1933, Rep. Walter Pierce of Oregon introduced a bill in Congress to let doctors discuss birth control with their patients. The need for such a bill showed how controversial the subject was. But this was the heart of the Great Depression, when impoverished Americans could barely feed the children they had.

Oregon, along with California, is again ahead of the curve in promoting women’s access to contraceptives. Both states will soon let pharmacists dispense the pill, patches, and other hormonal contraceptives without a doctor’s prescription. This is a major advance for the following reasons:

–Logistics. Needing a prescription from a physician requires having a physician. Many women don’t, and those who do must often wait for appointments. Or they may have had a recent checkup and want birth control without going through the other unpleasant procedures in a gynecologist’s office.

–Cost. It’s a cheaper way to obtain birth control.

–Convenience. The United States has a very high percentage of unintended pregnancies. Many are the result of women being unwilling to jump through the hoops to secure birth control before having sex. The hurdles of convenience, cost and logistics are higher for poor women.

Please spare us the lectures on personal responsibility. The objective here is to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Some argue that these state laws don’t go far enough in “freeing” the pill. They want it sold over the counter just like aspirin and toothpaste.

Hormonal contraceptives are already sold over the counter in much of the world — in nearly all of Asia and Latin America and in most of Africa. A prescription is still required in Canada and in western Europe, with the interesting exception of Portugal.

One can argue for requiring some sort of prescription, at least for the time being. Health insurance generally doesn’t cover over-the-counter medications but will pay for prescribed contraceptives. The federal Food and Drug Administration, meanwhile, takes forever to approve over-the-counter medications (another problem that needs fixing).

Although these contraceptives are generally very safe, they can cause complications for a few women. Both Oregon and California will ask pharmacists to have women fill out short questionnaires to help determine whether hormonal birth control poses any risks to the patient.

Arizona, Idaho and New Mexico have shown an interest in following the Oregon and California example. Washington state already lets pharmacists prescribe contraceptives, but only under special agreements with physicians; they can get complicated.

As we look forward to more easily obtainable birth control, we can also observe the past at work in a case now winding through the U.S. Supreme Court. It is the umpteenth challenge to the Affordable Care Act requirement that employers provide coverage for birth control. (Houses of worship are already exempt.)

The plaintiffs this time are the Little Sisters of the Poor in Baltimore. They argue that the Obama administration’s accommodation for religious nonprofits opposed to contraception, such as theirs, is too burdensome.

In truth, all they have to do is fill out a short form saying that birth control violates their religious beliefs and they won’t have to pay for it. The group says doing even that makes them “complicit” in the alleged immorality tied to birth control.

Americans have to agree on certain principles, and access to birth control is widely accepted, including among Catholics. In this world of increasing religious diversity, many principles will conflict with theological teachings. In short, Obama has stretched religious accommodation far enough.

Back to the future, thank the American West for leading the way toward curbing unwanted pregnancies — the results of which no one of faith or otherwise wants. Letting pharmacies prescribe contraceptives should become law across the land.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2015 CREATORS.COM

Photo via +mara

Froma Harrop

Froma Harrop’s nationally syndicated column appears in over 150 newspapers. Media Matters ranks her column 20th nationally in total readership and 14th in large newspaper concentration. Harrop has been a guest on PBS, MSNBC, Fox News and the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and is a frequent voice on NPR and talk radio stations in every time zone as well.

A Loeb Award finalist for economic commentary in 2004 and again in 2011, Harrop was also a Scripps Howard Award finalist for commentary in 2010. She has been honored by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and the New England Associated Press News Executives Association has given her five awards.

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  2. Kurt CPI November 27, 2015

    The AMA will fight this or anything that potentially takes money out of their pockets. But as long as it’s safe to dispense something that should be available to everyone there’s no need for a Dr. visit.

    1. Wayneo November 28, 2015

      The radical christian right will also be against it, because it will encourage people to have sex just for fun and pleasure.

      1. Otto Greif November 28, 2015

        Senate Republicans tried to legalize OTC birth control but Democrats stopped it because they want government to do everything.

        1. stcroixcarp November 29, 2015


        2. johninPCFL November 29, 2015

          Not quite: “A group of Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., unveiled a bill Tuesday that would allow birth control pills approved by the Food and Drug Administration to be sold without a prescription.”

          You’re thinking of a year earlier when two GOP Senate candidates came out in favor to try to disprove the GOP war on women: “GOP Senate hopefuls favor over-the-counter birth control”

        3. Sand_Cat November 29, 2015

          Glad to see you support the idea. But then, you’d look pretty foolish in your SS uniform calling other people murderers.

        4. gococksri November 29, 2015

          No, they didn’t. That was a campaign gesture made by a couple of GOP Senate hopefuls.

          Get your facts right.

      2. Kurt CPI November 28, 2015

        Fun and pleasure are the work of the devil!!

  3. elw November 27, 2015

    Some birth control methods are already sold without a Prescription. But the more effective ones require fittings, insertion or monitoring. I don’t know about anyone else but I would not want a pharmacist inserting or measuring me, you know where? The list of Countries that allow that are all poor and 3rd world countries – hopefully we are better than that.

  4. Sand_Cat November 29, 2015

    Do pharmacies want to be blown up and accused of murder?
    The idea would be sound in a sane society, but here?

  5. gococksri November 29, 2015

    While the idea is perfectly sound and makes perfect sense, the fact remains that, if you even mentioned it in a southern legislature, your demise would be swift, ugly and accompanied only by the sound of the conservative Christian community praying for your soul (after taking your life).


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