LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A bill to allow Arkansas women to get birth control without a prescription from their doctor cleared its first hurdle Thursday.
Pharmacists would be able to dispense oral contraceptives to women 18 and older.
A similar measure has failed in the past, but this one is gaining momentum with bipartisan support.
“This is an access issue,” Nicki Hilliard, an Arkansas pharmacist and UAMS professor, told the House public health committee.
When it comes to health care providers, every county in the state has at least two pharmacists. Many of them, like Hilliard, argue they should be able to prescribe birth control to patients.
“Oral contraceptives are perfectly legal and do not require a diagnosis,” she said.
“Being able to reduce the number of abortions in the state of Arkansas seemed like a genuinely good idea,” said St. Rep. Aaron Pilkington, R-Clarksville, who is sponsoring the bill.
Supporters argue it would also reduce the teen pregnancy rate in the state. According to the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement (ACHI), more than half the pregnancies in Arkansas are unplanned and most are paid by public funds, costing taxpayers about $320 million in federal and state dollars.
However, not all are for the legislation.
“The increase in young people with contraceptives without proper education also increases the incidents of sexually transmitted diseases,” said Thelma Moton, the executive director of Choosing to Excel in Conway.
Others worry patients would have to pay consulting and administrative fees on top of the medication.
“By the time you do all that, you could have gone to a doctor and gotten birth control pills, and it would have been less expensive,” said David Wroten, the executive vice president of the Arkansas Medical Society.
One pharmacist told lawmakers even she would prefer to get birth control from her doctor.
“I just think that a woman needs exams,” said Marsha Boss. “She needs to go to a physician, guarantee she would get to a physician once a year. Look and see if you have vaginal cancer. Get a pap smear.”
The bill now heads to the full House for a vote.
About a dozen states allow pharmacists to provide oral contraceptives.