Birth Control Pill Is Now Available in Oregon and California Without a Prescription

Women in California and Oregon can now obtain birth control pills directly from a pharmacist without a doctor's prescription. REUTERS/John Sommers II

Lawmakers in Oregon and California have implemented measures that will allow women to obtain birth control pills directly from pharmacies over-the-counter, without a doctor's prescription.

In Oregon, the new law took effect on January 1, and provides access to hormonal birth control—including pills and patches—for woman age 18 or older. California's similar regulations will begin in March, but don't have an age restriction. The states of Washington and Colorado have also introduced bills similar to the one implemented in Oregon.

Kate Brown, governor of Oregon, signed the bill last July. The state is the first to implement such a law, a bold move at a time when many federal and state politicians throughout the country are taking action to restrict women's access to contraception, such as defunding Planned Parenthood—a major provider a family planning health care services in the U.S.—and attempting to block a provision in the Affordable Care Act that mandates health insurance companies cover the cost of contraceptives.

Research finds that women are more likely to use birth control and less likely to have unintended pregnancies when barriers are lifted in contraceptive access. A 2015 study published in Contraception finds 21 percent of low-income women at risk for unplanned pregnancy are more likely to use the pill if it is available without a prescription. Another report finds making birth control more accessible to women also reduces abortion rates. Both of these studies suggest that defraying the cost of birth control is an essential step to increasing the number of women who use it. However, these new laws don't address the issue of keeping out-of-pocket costs low for all women, especially those who are not covered by insurance.

Under Oregon's new law, licensed pharmacists will be required to take part in a training program before they are allowed to consult women who wish to obtain hormonal contraceptives. Additionally, once a pharmacist prescribes and dispenses birth control, he or she will also need to ensure that the woman has a primary care physician for follow-up.

California's law was signed by Governor Jerry Brown in 2013, and since then the state's Board of Pharmacy has been developing a set of protocols for licensed pharmacists, which it completed over the summer. In addition to hormonal birth control, pharmacists in the state may also prescribe over-the-counter nicotine patches, and certain prophylactic medications for travel abroad as well as order tests that evaluate efficacy and toxicity of certain medications. Before receiving a prescription, customers will be required to fill out a health questionnaire and have their blood pressure taken.