California Gets One Big Step Closer To Over-The-Counter Birth Control, Plus 5 Countries That Have Easy Access To Oral Contraceptives

Last week, I discussed the PolkaDoc app creating increased birth control access by allowing California women to gain birth control pill prescriptions without visiting the doctor's office. Removing the inconvenience and economic barriers caused by requiring a doctor's appointment brought women closer to the dream of over-the-counter birth control, something that 70 percent of American women favor for their reproductive lives. Now, California has taken another huge step toward making that dream a reality, thanks to a state bill originally passed in 2013. With the arrival of SB 493, pharmacists will be allowed to prescribe birth control.

Women will be able to get a prescription for birth control pills, the ring, or the patch — and get it filled. State health officials are "finalizing the regulations for the law," which will likely take effect before 2015 is over.  Fertile women who take hormonal birth control will no longer have to rely on a doctor's office, and it's about damn time when you consider the dangerous side effects of medicines that are already available over the counter. The fact that birth control is still thought of as too dangerous points to the constant battle to control female bodies.

Since the passing of SB 493 in 2013, some doctors have expressed concern "that if women don’t come to the clinic for their birth control, they won’t get screened for cervical cancer or tested for sexually transmitted diseases." Amy Moy, VP of Public Affairs for the California Family Health Council, which advocates for SB 493 and OTC birth control, said "Women accessing birth control through the pharmacist would be faster and more convenient. But they will also not have the comprehensive care available in another health care setting.” Yet even the California Family Health Council and other women's advocacy groups are vocal about OTC birth control having way more positives than negatives, even if some women forgo certain screenings.

And, frankly, the fact that some doctors are against the law for such a reason is merely representative of the sexist, patronizing assumption that women cannot be trusted or considered responsible enough to maintain their own health. Bustle's Emma McGowan provides fantastic insight about the medical community's lack of trust in women in her essay about using the diaphragm as birth control. Do doctors think they have to use birth control to bribe women into their offices? And what about the women who can't take hormonal birth control, don't need birth control, or choose not to take birth control — do we just assume that they don't have any sense to get such screenings on their own? Rather than deny many women easy access to a vital medication for no scientific reason, let's instead consider spreading awareness and education about cervical cancer screenings, breast cancer screenings, pap smears, STI testing, etc, shall we? Get it together, medical community.

SB 493 was passed as people are becoming more and more wary of an impending doctor shortage, and California happens to be the first state in the nation to realize that pharmacists are more than competent enough to share some of the responsibilities. Pharmacists will also be undergoing new training in preparation for the law. One negative possibility of pharmacists taking on the job is that they won't be paid fairly for the extra work, and Medi-Cal is not required to reimburse the pharmacists' services. Jon Roth, CEO of the California Pharmacists Association, says "We are working to try and identify where it makes sense to pay pharmacists as opposed to other more expensive providers in the health care delivery system.”

In addition to allowing pharmacists to prescribe birth control, SB 493 will also grant them authority to provide more vaccinations to younger children, order lab tests, alter patients' medications for hypertension, diabetes, and more as needed, and prescribe smoking cessation and travel abroad medications.

In 2012, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists formally endorsed making birth control available over the counter. In 2013, a research team led by Dr. Daniel Grossman of Oakland, California's Ibis Reproductive Health found that there were already "thirty-five countries [that] legally allowed access to oral contraceptives over-the-counter, and 11 countries [that] allowed over-the-counter access as long as the woman is screened to ensure that she is a good candidate." Dr. Grossman remarked that wealthier countries tended to have more regulations for women trying to access birth control. Since many of the countries with OTC availability are more impoverished, other doctors have stated that it may be a tactic for increasing healthcare access. Dr. Grossman said that he hopes the prevalence of OTC birth control found in their research "helps to put it in perspective that this is not something revolutionary."

Some of the countries already providing OTC birth control include:

1. China


2. India


3. Dominican Republic



4. Afghanistan


5. Ethiopia


Check out OC Status Worldwide's interactive map to see all of the countries where OTC birth control is available.

Hopefully, California women will have access to prescriptions through their pharmacists by the end of this year, inspiring other states to adopt similar pharmacy laws.

Here's to easier access to birth control and reproductive freedom!

Images: Giphy (5)

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