New Oregon Law Will Allow Pharmacists to Dispense Contraceptives Without a Prescription

By Margaret Knapp | July 10, 2015 | 3:23 PM EDT


Gov. Kate Brown signs a bill allowing pharmacists in Oregon to dispense oral and hormonal contraceptives without a physician's prescription. (AP photo)

( -- Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed a bill this week authorizing the state's pharmacists to provide women over 18 with a 12-month supply of hormonal and oral contraceptives without a doctor’s prescription.

California is the only other state with a similar law on the books, but it has not yet been implemented.

"Oregon is now the easiest place in the nation for women to access birth control," state Rep. Knute Buehler (R-Bend), the Republican sponsor of the bill, noted in a statement on Monday.

Buehler, a physician specializing in hip and knee surgery, said he introduced the bill because only emergency contraception is currently available over the counter without a prescription.  

Under the legislation, which will go into effect next year, women over the age of 18 who want to buy contraceptives without first seeing a doctor will first have to complete a self-administered risk assessment, which includes filling out a questionnaire and going to counseling. Women would also be initially limited to a three-month supply to make sure there are no adverse reactions to the drugs.

However, completion of the questionnaire does not automatically guarantee access to contraceptives, Buehler told “It’s at the discretion of the pharmacist; if he/she thinks that the woman is unqualified to receive those contraceptives, they may refer them to their primary care physician.”

Minors under 18 who are seeking to bypass a doctor’s visit will have to provide proof of a previous doctor’s prescription before they are allowed to purchase contraceptives over the counter.

The Oregon State Pharmacy Association, which supports the plan, has said that "several studies have demonstrated that women can self-screen for contraindications to hormonal therapy. In some cases, women are more likely to identify contraindications than their health care provider."

However, Planned Parenthood says that such measues are an attempt to undermine the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which requires insurance companies to pay for all Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved birth control prescribed by a physician, but doesn’t include a requirement that insurance plans pick up the tab for contraceptives once they’re available over the counter.

Other critics questioned the necessity for the new law.

“Is there an unexamined assumption that expanded access to birth control is a good thing?” asked Todd Cooper, spokesman for the Oregon Catholic Conference, which opposed the bill. “Will this encourage sexual activity on the part of young girls and boys? And what are the consequences of that?”

The FDA requires prescriptions for most oral and hormonal forms of birth control. Long- term use (five years or more) of oral contraceptives is associated with an increased risk of certain types of cancer. 

“The results of population studies to examine associations between oral contraceptive use and cancer risk have not always been consistent. Overall, however, the risks of endometrial and ovarian cancer appear to be reduced with the use of oral contraceptives, whereas the risks of breast, cervical, and liver cancer appear to be increased,” according to the National Cancer Institute.

“Estrogen-progestogen oral contraceptives (combined)” are classified by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a group one carcinogen, in the same class as asbestos and formaldehyde, although IARC notes that “there is also convincing evidence in humans that these agents confer a protective effect against cancer in the endometrium and ovary.”

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