Women in both California and Oregon can now buy hormonal birth control at the pharmacy without a doctor's prescription, which is a pretty big deal for women's health. Many women's health advocates point out that men have had over-the-counter access to birth control for years (they can simply purchase condoms) when women have not had the same privilege to contraceptives they themselves can control. Although California's law has no age restrictions for who can get birth control, Oregon's over-the-counter birth control legislation has one big problem: Pharmacists can only provide birth control without a prescription to women over 18 years old, according to USA Today.
This is a huge problem for a few reasons. First, teens are one of the populations with the most barriers standing between them and contraception access; second, teens are often the least fit to deal with unplanned pregnancies; and, third, teens have the most to gain from free, uninhibited access to birth control. A study published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine found that providing teens free education about and access to contraception reduced teen abortion rates by up to 78 percent, according to Salon. This was because, during the study, researchers removed common barriers standing between teens and access to contraception, which might include hostility from parents, lack of transportation to and from a doctor's office for a prescription, lack of funds and time, or a general social climate that firmly condemns teen sexual activity. Furthermore, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has endorsed over-the-counter access to birth control since 2012.
Oregon's new law would require pharmacists to undergo a bit more training than California's law, and women who want to receive birth control will still have to undergo a short health screening and questionnaire that screens for things like blood clot risk, current pregnancy, and other risk factors that might prevent women from taking hormonal birth control, according to USA Today.
Women under 18 will be required to show proof of prior birth control prescriptions from a physician in order to get birth control under the new law, which won't remove many of the barriers faced by sexually active teens today. Only teens with driver's licenses or parents who take them to a doctor to get a prescription will have access to the new law's benefits, which still leaves teens with unapproving parents, no transportation, or limited funds out of the picture.
The problem is that we're not really talking about sexually active 14-year-olds. The Guttmacher Institute found that very few 14-year-olds are sexually active. Rather, it's teens from 16 to 19 that face higher rates of teen pregnancy. Though 18- to 19-year-olds have the highest rates of teen pregnancies — at 89 percent — the rate of pregnancy in 15- to 17-year-olds was second highest at 30 pregnancies per 100 teens in 2010, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The study also found that drops in teen pregnancy rates in the last 10 years are mostly due to teens' more effective use of contraceptives.
Maybe a second piece of Oregon legislation that just passed the 90-member Legislature in a nearly unanimous vote will at least help teens who can or have obtained a birth control prescription at some point. The second bill would allow women to obtain a yearlong supply of birth control rather than refilling it every 30 or 90 days, according to the Los Angeles Times. The current way the bill is written, though, seems to require women to have a current prescription before they can obtain a yearlong supply, which wouldn't help some teens at all. To actually help all at-risk populations, Oregon should expand the legislation to include teens. But the law still makes it one of the most progressive states in terms of awesome women's health legislation.