As of April 1, California became the third state to pass a law allowing women to receive birth control from their local pharmacy without a prescription. Law SB 493, originally passed in California in 2013, has expanded accessibility to birth control since going into effect this month.
Types of birth control that may be bought without a prescription includes pills, patches, injection and vaginal rings, which are self-administered forms of birth control. Forms of birth control that require a professional procedure, including arm implants and intrauterine devices, will not be accessible from pharmacies.
“The new California law that allows pharmacies to dispense birth control pills provides another option for women to access protection from unplanned pregnancies,” said Dr. Mary Ferris, student health executive director at the University of California, Santa Barbara Student Health center. “We support lowering the barriers to obtain safe birth control for everyone, which is why UCSB Student Health offers comprehensive contraceptive healthcare to students as easily as possible.”
The process for receiving birth control at a pharmacy is straightforward. Patients can expect to complete a questionnaire, undergo a blood pressure test, then discuss options and dosage with a pharmacist. Pharmacists can either recommend different types or patients can request the birth control method they would like to use.
The questionnaire requires information about previous medical history, menstruation information and medication history amongst other questions. It is used to determine which products are safe and okay for the patient to use.
In California, there is no minimum age for receiving birth control.
In recent years, birth control has become easier to access for those who need it. Nurx is an app that prescribes and delivers birth control at your convenience. To receive the birth control, patients fill out a questionnaire, insurance information, brand preference and shipping information. A doctor then reviews all the information and corresponds with the patient before writing a prescription. Three months worth of contraceptives are then shipped for free for those with insurance, otherwise it is $15 per month.
Like prescribed birth control, birth control administered by pharmacists can be free if covered by insurance. It is unknown whether some pharmacies will charge fees for screenings and administering the medication.
Nurx also provides PrEP, a medication that helps reduce the risk of contracting HIV. The medicine can be taken by HIV-negative individuals.
But birth control does not help prevent against sexually transmitted diseases. Birth control medications also do not fully prevent pregnancy, although they can significantly decrease chances of becoming pregnant.
It is important to remember that birth control does not help prevent against sexually transmitted diseases. “The new California State Board of Pharmacy protocol and the UCSB Student Health guidelines ensure that pharmacists and healthcare providers include education about sexually transmitted diseases whenever they prescribe birth control pills. This means our students are informed that birth control pills do NOT protect against sexually transmitted infections, and that condoms also need to used. Our pharmacy also labels our birth control pills with this warning,” said Dr. Ferris.
Not all pharmacies are required to provide these services. The law only expands what a pharmacist can do. It is best to speak with your pharmacist to see if they will be offering this.
“At UCSB Student Health, we have birth control visits readily available, so we do not need to train our pharmacists in this new program,” Ferris said. “Students just need to make an appointment online, or by phone or walk-in, and they are readily available. We offer a visit that includes education on all aspects of sexual health, medical screening for safety and shared decision-making with the student. We also offer online refills and three-month supply of pills, to make use easier for all students.”
Though new distribution of birth control is a big factor of SB 493, the law expands other services pharmacists can provide. Pharmacists can give patients nicotine replacement products for those who wish to quit smoking, and administer immunizations to patients over three years old.
Either way, this law increases accessibility to those who seek these services. In fact, a survey by the Associated Press showed that abortions have nationally decreased by approximately 12 percent since 2010. This could be attributed to the fewer number of women seeking abortions for unplanned pregnancies. The wider access of birth control methods have the potential to keep these numbers down.