Breaking Birth Control Barriers: Why America Should look to the West Coast

In a few months, California will be the second state to allow the sale of over-the-counter birth control products, following the lead of Oregon, which passed similar legislation earlier this month. However, only a handful of other states — most of them in the West — are considering similar laws. Oregon’s and California’s state laws are progressive, but real progress will only be made when the rest of the nation follows their lead. The sale of over-the-counter birth control products should be a federally-recognized right: it’s safe, it’s accessible, and it will revolutionize women’s control of their own reproductive health.

The Republican-sponsored Oregon law has garnered bipartisan support since its introduction last July. Many conservatives note that more widespread access to birth control pills, patches and rings is expected to lower rates of unintended pregnancies anywhere from 7 percent to 25 percent, according to a recent UCSF study, and thus could save states millions in short-term Medicaid costs.contraceptive-pills-849413_1920

Better access to birth control has proved hugely beneficial to states in the past – when the state of Colorado introduced free and accessible long-term birth control in 2009 (including implants and intrauterine devices), the rate of teen pregnancy
dropped 40 percent over the next four years, and the rate of abortions fell by 42 percent. Additionally, the state saved $5.85 in Medicaid costs for every dollar spent on the birth control program. Over-the-counter birth control could provide similar benefits for the states that allow it. It’s simple: if access to birth control is easier, more women will use it regularly. That means fewer unwanted pregnancies, and fewer associated consequences for both the woman and the state.

Besides its obvious financial benefits, many Democrats laud the over-the-counter law as a major step forward for women’s reproductive rights. Under the new law, women no longer have to go to their doctor for a birth control prescription every three to six months; now, pharmacists are trained to issue a 20-question survey to women, and use their answers to prescribe a year’s worth of safe and effective contraceptives. This eliminates inconvenient quarterly trips to the doctor which may discourage women from renewing their prescription, especially if those doctor’s visits are costly or time-consuming. However, the law’s stipulation that a pharmacist must still issue a prescription tailored to a woman’s questionnaire answers ensures that the hormonal medication is still being issued safely and properly.

More than 30 percent of women who are not currently on birth control reported to a Reuters survey that they would start taking it if it were available over-the-counter. Last year, 85 percent of sexually-active teenage girls reported that they would take oral contraceptives if they were available over-the-counter, according to the National Institute of Health. The accessibility
of birth control is clearly crucial in giving people the means to use it and prevent unwanted pregnancies — a bipartisan goal.

The sale of over-the-counter birth control represents the dismantling of a barrier between women and their own reproductive health — a barrier that men, largely, do not have to face. Women deserve the power to make their own choices regarding contraceptives, especially when over-the-counter access has been proven safe and effective for women, as well as financially and socially beneficial for the state. Oregon and California are moving in the right direction. The rest of the country needs to look at their progress and take measures to do the same.
Megan Cole is a second-year literary journalism major. She can be reached at coleme@uci.edu.