Women in California No Longer Need Prescription to Receive Birth Control

A California law allowing women of all ages to obtain self-administered forms of hormonal birth control without a doctor’s prescription went into effect on April 8, the California Pharmacists Association announced. The state legislature initially passed the law in 2013, but the need to determine its regulations prevented it from being implemented until last Friday.

The legislation, introduced by state Senator Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) as SB 493, requires  participating pharmacists follow the protocol approved by the California State Board of Pharmacy when distributing hormonal contraceptives, which includes birth control pills, transdermal patches, vaginal rings and depot injections. Under the protocol, before receiving their chosen form of birth control, patients must complete a self-screening tool, a pharmacist review of the self-screening tool, a blood pressure test for combined hormonal contraceptives and training that covers administering the medication and other information such as side effects and dosage.

Chair of the A.S. Women’s Commission Erin McMullen told the UCSD Guardian that the law is significant because it gives women, especially those in lower socioeconomic groups, better access to birth control and greater control over their reproductive health.

“The creation and implementation of this law provides more inclusive and necessary access to services for demographics who may not have the opportunity to receive health care services due to the currently high cost of health insurance and other socioeconomic barriers to health care services and health care delivery,” McMullen said. “On a broader scale, this law provides more women with a higher level of experienced agency and control over their reproductive health without having to face the stigma sometimes associated with using various reproductive health services from either a health care provider or their peers.”

California, Oregon, and Washington are currently the only states, along with the District of Columbia, to implement such birth control laws. However, according to UCSD associate professor of ethnic studies and critical gender studies Sara Kaplan, SB 493 is indicative of a larger trend in which the national outcry against abortions has led to the mindset that if women’s access to termination is limited, it needs to be easier for them to avoid pregnancy altogether.

“A consequence of [national backlash against abortion access] has been that there has been an effective way in which reproductive rights activists have argued and made the case that if women’s access to abortion is going to be actively restricted, then we have to do something to make it possible for them to have better access to preventing pregnancy in the first place,” Kaplan stated. “I think that we see this with access to birth control without a prescription.”

According to Stacie San Miguel, the Director of Medical Services for UCSD’s Student Health Services, the Student Health Center will not have its pharmacists undergo training to supply birth control without a prescription because students can already easily obtain birth control from the center’s doctors, who can better inform patients about birth control than the pharmacists.

“We find that it is very helpful for the students to meet with an experienced health care provider to talk about all the different options … and to also have an opportunity to talk about STIs, which is something that the pharmacist would not be able to address,” San Miguel told the Guardian “There is still the availability for women here to be able to see a provider [for contraceptives], and if they want to do other things than birth control pills or patches or rings, then we have the ability as providers to either schedule the insertion for Nexplanon or an IUD or just counsel people.”

While McMullen believes that the law is a step in the right direction for reproductive rights, she also thinks that more could be done to increase accessibility to birth control by eliminating the negative impressions of contraceptives in society.

“Government officials need to be open and transparent about the existing cultural stigma concerning an individual’s choice to obtain reproductive health care services from both public and private health care providers such as Planned Parenthood and others as well,” McMullen said. “No individual should ever feel shamed by anyone for seeking control over their own reproductive health; this is a matter of personal choice, and that choice and decision-making power should never be held by another person.” 

SB 493 also allows pharmacists to supply patients with certain nicotine replacement medications and administer vaccines pursuant to a prescriber’s protocol.