Last week, Tenn. Republican State Senator Dr. Steven Dickerson of District 20 in Nashville introduced Senate Bill 1677, a proposal aimed at allowing women to purchase birth control directly from pharmacists without first obtaining a doctor’s prescription.
Dr. Dickerson, an anesthesiologist, wrote in an op-ed in The Tennessean, “By some accounts, almost half of pregnancies are either unintentional or ‘mistimed.’ We need to do better. One logical solution is to make contraception easier to obtain. Easier access to contraception will lead to higher use, and higher use will lead to fewer unintended pregnancies.”
Dickerson’s bill would stop just short of making birth control over-the-counter, but instead would allow pharmacists to provide the medication directly to women without a doctor’s prescription after “reviewing a list of possible risks and risk factors” with them. He characterized this type of process where a pharmacist prescribes birth control as “behind-the-counter.”
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“Under the current system, birth control pills require a physician’s prescription. While this might not seem like a significant impediment to some, even the simple act of going to a doctor’s appointment can be so expensive or time-consuming that it acts as a barrier to many, and can even impose an impossible burden to meet for women without health insurance,” said Sen. Dickerson.
A 2012 opinion by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists stated, “A potential way to improve contraceptive access and use, and possibly decrease unintended pregnancy rates, is to allow over-the-counter access to oral contraceptives (OCs)… Weighing the risks versus the benefits based on currently available data, OCs should be available over-the-counter. Women should self-screen for most contraindications to OCs using checklists.”
Sen. Dickerson added, “While all medications have side effects and risks, by some measures, oral contraceptives’ risks remain lower than the risks of pregnancy. At the very least, the risk is low enough that adults, in proper consultation with a pharmacist, can make an informed decision about the appropriateness of utilizing these medications.”
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He also pointed out that even when not required to visit the doctor to obtain birth control, “data show women continue to seek routine gynecologic screening.”
According to Slate, Oregon and California recently enacted similar bills.
“In addition to the primary goal of decreasing unintended pregnancies, SB 1677 has the added benefit of decreasing health care costs and increasing individual freedom, both of which I believe to be worthwhile goals,” argued Sen. Dickerson.