Getting access to birth control medication could soon become much easier in Arizona, thanks to a new bill.
This story originally appeared on Copper Courier.
This week, a state senate committee voted unanimously to allow Arizonans in need of birth control to skip the doctor’s office and get their medication directly from the pharmacy.
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee met on Wednesday to vote on SB 1493, a bipartisan bill that would allow the Arizona Department of Health Services to issue a standing prescription for contraceptive pills, rings, and patches.
This means pharmacists could allow patients ages 18 and older to purchase birth control without a prescription. Instead, patients would fill out a self-screening risk assessment at the pharmacy. Pharmacists would also be required to provide them with information on the medication.
The legislation does not make birth control an over-the-counter purchase, but instead hands authority to disperse the medication to pharmacists. A similar method was devised in 2017 to make opioid overdose reversal drugs more accessible.
The bill offers legal protections for pharmacists, shielding them from potential lawsuits that might arise from dispensing birth control. The protections are similar legal coverage already in place for complications resulting from over-the-counter medicines.
The Arizona Pharmacy Association and the Arizona Section of the American Colleges of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have both expressed support for such legislation.
Kelly Fine, CEO of the AzPA, said the bill will “ultimately reduce the number of unintended pregnancies in this state.”
Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, is the primary sponsor of the legislation. She says it’s time for the state to remove barriers to accessing birth control.
“There’s no reason to continue to make women go into the doctor’s office, get a prescription, make a trip to the pharmacy, when we can have a different method that allows them to obtain the medication,” she told the committee.
Medical professionals also came to speak in favor of the bill and answer lawmakers’ questions. Dr. Julie Kwatra, a Scottsdale OB/GYN, drove Ugenti-Rita’s points home.
“We know from studies that these [birth control] methods are safe, they’re convenient, they’re reversible, and that’s why women like them,” she said.
The requirement to get a prescription annually also creates complications for those that have taken the time to get one, such as finding time to visit a faraway doctor or difficulty setting up an appointment outside of work hours. Kwatra noted that several of her patients who take birth control ended up pregnant because they weren’t able to renew their prescription in time.
“This is especially huge for poor and rural women that also struggle with access and may not be able to see a doctor,” she said.
Kwatra added that many people take birth control for reasons other than preventing pregnancy—the medication treats multiple conditions including endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, early menopause, and acne.
The bill now moved forward to the Senate Rules Committee, which will take it up on Monday.