In the past two years, California and Oregon have become the first states in which women can get birth control without a doctor's visit.
Now, lawmakers in Missouri, Hawaii, Washington, South Carolina and Tennessee are considering similar bills that would allow pharmacists to prescribe birth control pills, patches, and rings — basically, all the forms of birth control that a pharmacy can sell.
This means women could go to the pharmacy, get a prescription, and fill that prescription all in one visit.
All scientific evidence available suggests this is a great idea. The United States has a much higher unintended pregnancy rate than most other developed countries, so anything that makes it easier to prevent pregnancy should be a welcome policy intervention. And birth control is an incredibly safe medication that women can take with few complications. Gynecologists have argued that it's actually safer than typical over-the-counter medications, like Advil or Tylenol.
"There is a risk of blood clots with OC use, but it is extremely low and significantly lower than the risk of blood clots during pregnancy and the postpartum period," the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists writes on the issue. "Aspirin and acetaminophen are both available OTC even though they have well-known health risks."
The only way these states could improve that would be by making birth control available over the counter, without a prescription from anyone. This would eliminate one more obstacle to obtaining contraceptives: Without a prescription, women could grab birth control pills off the shelf during hours when the pharmacy was closed. It would also eliminate any social stigma that comes along with talking to the pharmacist.
Most countries allow over-the-counter birth control
Most countries now allow over-the-counter birth control, either informally or formally, one 2012 study found. However, North American and European countries still tend to require prescriptions:
One 2011 study compared women who lived nearby on the different sides of the United States–Mexico border. Women who lived in the United States were 60 percent more likely to discontinue their use of the Pill compared with Mexican women, who didn't need a prescription to get the medication.
Survey research shows, perhaps unsurprisingly, strong interest from women in making birth control available over the counter.
What's maybe more surprising is the bi-partisan consensus in favor of over-the-counter birth control. Republicans like Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado have come out in support. Democrats say they're in favor of it too, but stipulate that insurance companies should still have to cover the cost, like they do under Obamacare.
Bills introduced by both Gardner and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) haven't gone anywhere, leaving women stuck in an unnecessary and time-consuming process.
Correction: This article originally misstated Sen. Patty Murray's home state. It is Washington.