California Pharmacists: Birth Control Law Allows Prescription-Less Hormonal Contraception To Prevent Unintended Pregnancies

Friday marked a pivotal day for childbearing women. According to a report from the Street, California Pharmacists can now dispense birth control pills without the need for a doctor’s prescription. Proponents of the new state legislation say community pharmacies can help prevent unintended pregnancies.

The new law, dubbed California SB 493, was signed by Governor Jerry Brown in September 2013. It allowed for the creation of a new class (Advanced Practice Pharmacist [APP]) by the California State Board of Pharmacy. The state joined Oregon and Washington, both with similar laws on the books.

A pharmacist with this designation is allowed to do the following: make patient referrals to other health care providers, take part in the process of disease diagnosis and treatment, regulate drug therapy, do patient assessments; order therapy for medicines and other tests.

The California law was held up in a lengthy regulatory process. As part of passage, the law stipulates requirements for certification:

“A person who seeks recognition as an advanced practice pharmacist shall… earn certification in a relevant area of pharmacy practice including, but not limited to, ambulatory care, critical care, geriatric pharmacy, nuclear pharmacy, nutrition support pharmacy, oncology pharmacy, pediatric pharmacy, pharmacotherapy, pharmacotherapy, or psychiatric pharmacy…”

The new birth control procedure for pharmacists in California allows pharmacists to bypass the conventional need for a physician’s order, but only under certain circumstances. SB 493 gives pharmacy practitioners the right to dispense contraceptive pills, provide medications for travel, expand immunizations, and offer services designed for smoking cessation.

Chief Executive Officer of the California Pharmacists Association, Jon Roth, weighed in on the new law. He lauded it as a win-win for the community.

“Today is a wonderful day for women’s healthcare in California. We thank the California State Board of Pharmacy for completing the contraception regulations and are pleased that pharmacists can now provide direct access to birth control for women.

“California’s 6,500 community pharmacies are the face of neighborhood healthcare in this state. Community pharmacies are open beyond normal business hours, and patients do not need an appointment to see their pharmacist. That means these regulations will go a long way to expanding women’s access to birth control.”

In addition to providing oral hormone pills to prevent pregnancies, pharmacists are authorized to issue the following: Depo-Provera injection, which is the brand name medroxyprogesterone. It gives a woman progestin, a hormone designed to block the release of eggs (ovulation).

Pharmacists are not allowed to issue contraception pills to just anyone making a request; there are required steps in the process. One is to have the customer/patient complete a questionnaire that gives pharmacists a general glimpse of overall health.

For instance, if a person has a serious underlying health condition, the pills may not be appropriate for them. Additionally, the drugs may not work in concert with other medications. In these cases, the pharmacy is required to refer the person back to their doctor or provider.

Critics of the pharmacy legislation say it creates a slippery slope and sends a worrisome message to young girls and women. The concern is that the law enables poor choices. Camille Giglio, a spokesperson for California Right to Life, weighed in on the controversial law.

“They say it’s for women, but they mean anyone. The ability to get contraceptives from yet another source is not a benefit to young people. It is a barrier to communication between a mother and a child.”

[Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images]

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