More than half of the 6.6 million pregnancies in the US each year are unplanned, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Oregon and California policymakers are trying to buck that trend with what the New York Times calls "groundbreaking" new laws that would allow birth control to be doled out by a pharmacist without a doctor's Rx. Women would undergo a quick screening process with their pharmacist using a health questionnaire, and eligible parties would receive contraceptive pills, patches, or rings, all still covered by insurance, the paper notes. There's no minimum age for the California law; in Oregon, teens younger than 18 will still need to get their first contraceptive prescribed by a doctor. "I feel strongly that this is what's best for women's health in the 21st century … and will have repercussions for decreasing poverty, because one of the key things for women in poverty is unintended pregnancy," says GOP state Rep. Knute Buehler, who sponsored the Oregon law.
Some groups who want birth control to be totally OTC worry pharmacist-prescribed contraception could hurt the cause in the long run. "There should be nobody between the patient and the pill," the president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists tells the Times. But even these advocates concede that, thanks to long FDA approval processes, it could be awhile before universal OTC is possible. And even if that happens, steep costs might come with it, since ObamaCare doesn't cover OTC meds without a prescription, the paper points out; pharmacists may also charge fees for the time it takes to screen. Still, the board chairwoman for Physicians for Reproductive Health tells the Times that California and Oregon are "incubators" that could "end up being a model at the national level." (The fastest-growing birth control method is a little surprising.)