If you've been on the birth control pill for any length of time, you've probably had at least one close call. You know the drill: you forgot you were out of refills and then had to scramble to get a new prescription and have it filled before you ran out of your stash. It's stressful, sometimes costly, and largely unnecessary.
Well now, birth control users in three states have another option: getting the pharmacist to write you a prescription instead. The first such law was rolled out in Oregon a year ago and now California and Colorado have followed suit. The goal is to get more women better access to reproductive care by making it easier and more convenient.
To comply with the law, pharmacists have to take additional training and follow a specific protocol for prescribing birth control. They must send a patient to a doctor if there are any issues, such as high blood pressure, a risk of pregnancy, or if it's been three years since the last pap test. Pharmacists are also limited to prescribing certain kinds of birth control—the pill, or patch—which don't require any kind of medical procedure the way an IUD does.
"The biggest driver was just access to healthcare and looking at the data on continued high rates of unintended pregnancy," said Gina Moore, a pharmacist and associate professor of at the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy, who advised legislators on the new law. "Diagnosis is really the purview of physicians, but contraception doesn't require a diagnosis."
Giving pharmacists a more active role in health care can be beneficial. Moore pointed to pharmacists administering vaccinations, like the flu shot, which has been shown to improve immunization rates.
But access to contraception is a particularly important area for states, given the political climate. President Donald Trump's administration and the GOP-commanded congress have many public health experts concerned about protections for women's and reproductive health care.
The Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research organization that advocates for access to contraception, has called it a "reproductive health crisis," that could have "potentially devastating consequences." We've already seen some action from the new administration that signals changes to women's health care in the US and abroad, from pledges to defund Planned Parenthood to Trump's executive order reinstating a global anti-abortion rule (that actually increases abortions).
The new examples set by Oregon, California, and Colorado show how state governments can shore up existing protections for women's and reproductive health care, as well as expand access to care.
"With potential gaps in funding for Planned Parenthood or other family planning clinics, this is an important point," Moore said. "We're not going to take the place of family planning clinics, but this is about trying to ensure access to care for women."
Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter .