The USC Pharmacy will now have the option to offer birth control following the implementation of the new California Birth Control Law, which went into effect Friday.
The law allows pharmacists to offer birth control products, such as pills, shots, skin patches and vaginal rings, to women without a prescription from a doctor. While the law does not allow pharmacists to supply these products over the counter, women can obtain them after completing a screening questionnaire on their medical history and consulting with a pharmacist.
The statute does not mandate pharmacies to provide birth control prescriptions. Therefore women seeking contraceptives should confirm pharmacies offer the service. The Los Angeles County Hospital will not be implementing the law into its practice.
A similar law that was passed in Oregon took effect in January, but their law restricts use by women under age 18, whereas the California law extends to women of all ages. Similarly, there is not an age requirement when requesting birth control from a doctor.
Before the law was passed in California, women had to get prescriptions from their physician for birth control. Some, such as Elinor Accampo, a professor of history at Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, have argued that women who do not visit the doctor to receive birth control are less likely to be screened for cervical cancer or tested for sexually transmitted diseases.
“The one disadvantage to [not visiting the doctor] would be that she doesn’t get the education about all the other forms of birth control and what would be best for her,” Accampo said. “My only concern would be the education factor.”
Ryan Cainkar, a student who participates in USC’s Mobile Clinic club to help administer medical screenings in the local community, believes that the law will lead to more people consider birth control as a viable option and as a result learn more about the topic.
“Although we already have viable options, more accessible birth control will allow for less unintended pregnancies, as well as the opportunity for those that may have never considered it to at least ask questions and learn about the new options that we have been afforded through this law,” Cainkar said in an email to the Daily Trojan.
Many states have sought increased birth control access, based on the consistently high rates of unintended pregnancy. Patrick Whelan, faculty at Keck School of Medicine, responded to a recent study at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine indicating effective contraception reduces unplanned pregnancies and abortions.
“Roughly 50 percent of pregnancies in the United States are unintended, thus occurring in women who are not using contraception or are irregularly using contraception,” Whelan said in an email to the Daily Trojan.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists not only oppose the law, but also seek to create a model explicitly derailing the new law. They have questioned the effectiveness of these laws in California and Oregon, arguing the laws merely replace the barrier of visiting the doctor with another.
The law has undergone revisions from the Office of Administrative Law at the California Board of Pharmacy that require the Board to update their initial statement of reasons. It has also faced opposition from the California Medical Association, leading to an added special licensing procedure and education requirement for pharmacists such as required training.
“Women should have control over their own bodies, and I don’t like the fact that doctors, or the government, would tell women what to do with their body, and a woman should be able to go and get birth control,” Accampo said.
Millions of women have relied on contraception and with more easily accessible medication, it may lead to more women choosing pharmacies over doctor offices.
“It’s a little paternalistic to hold their birth control hostage,” said Kathleen Besinque, USC’s clinical pharmacy professor, to the Los Angeles Times.
In conjunction with the opposition it has undergone from medical associations, religion has surfaced in the discussion of birth control policy. A recent Supreme Court case addressed religious objections to the Affordable Care Act requirement that employers ensure coverage for contraception to all their female workers.
“Religious leaders will increasingly have to answer the question of how they can be opposed to birth control use when it directly leads to fewer abortions,” said Whelan, who is also a board member for the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies at USC.
The California State Board of Pharmacy argues the law will result in increased access to contraception therapy for women throughout California.
“Combining this access with the pharmacist’s role in patient education and counseling increases the benefit to each woman who elects to take advantage of this new access,” said Amy Gutierrez, the president of the Board of Pharmacy.