Why Contraceptives Should Be More Accessible
After Roe v. Wade was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, anti-choice politicians rushed to implement laws restricting abortion access for millions of people. Many states have set tight limits or banned access to safe and legal abortions altogether. Now, more than ever, there need to be fewer barriers to obtaining contraceptives, allowing people to make responsible decisions like preventing unintended pregnancies.
In many states, in order to obtain contraceptives, individuals must have a prescription from a health care provider. This can prevent people—including teens—from obtaining them correctly and consistently. But other states and countries around the world have started to make contraceptives more easily accessible.
As a New Jersey resident, I was relieved when my state recently legalized contraceptives to be distributed by a pharmacist without a prescription from a doctor. This bill is vital for women, as well as people who may not identify as women—like those who are nonbinary, for instance—who would benefit from access.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to interview one of the main people responsible for this bill, Senator Shirley Turner of the 15th legislative district of NJ. Senator Turner, a tireless advocate for reproductive rights, advanced the bill before Governor Phil Murphy signed it into law. I also spoke with Tazmine Weisgerber, Training and Technical Assistance Manager at Answer, who testified in support of the bill.
What Does This Bill Accomplish?
The bill aims to give individuals more autonomy when accessing certain contraceptives. Here are some of the ways it does this.
1. Provide access to contraceptives without a doctor’s prescription
When asked what contraceptives will be made available, Senator Turner says, “Birth control pills, vaginal rings and diaphragms, which have always only been available with a prescription.” The patch is also included.
Now, instead of needing a prescription from a health care provider, pharmacists will be able to administer these contraceptives once they have received appropriate training. This method differs from over-the-counter availability, as people will need to “complete a questionnaire to help their pharmacist to determine which hormonal contraceptive will be best for them,” according to Senator Turner. The purpose of this questionnaire is to obtain relevant medical information about the patient. “It is more of a discussion with the pharmacist to figure out what will work best for that individual based on their medical history, preferences and motives for using the contraceptive,” says Weisgerber. People will still be consulting with a professional to figure out which contraceptive is right for them.
2. Help save time and money
The bill “helps people save time and prevent the hassle of figuring out how to fit a doctor’s appointment into their schedule,” says Senator Turner. Having to schedule, attend and pay for regular doctor’s appointments sometimes prevents individuals from being able to consistently and correctly use contraceptives. The new pharmacy-prescribed policy “eliminates the requirement of an appointment at a doctor’s office which could take months to get, especially as a new patient,” says Weisgerber. “It also means less time is spent having to make an appointment, drive to the doctor, wait in the waiting room, etc.”
Along with saving time, this bill will help people save money by no longer requiring them to pay to see a health care provider.
3. Reduce lapses in prescriptions
Individuals can also avoid lapses in prescriptions. “Pharmacists are more likely to provide 12 months of contraceptives versus the typical one or three months with physicians, in which another visit is required,” says Weisgerber. Pharmacies are often close by and open for longer hours, giving people easier access to a longer-term supply of contraceptives.
Senator Turner first introduced this legislation in 2015 but it only recently became a law. What may have changed between then and now? “I believe that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade and some states restricting access to contraceptives were a factor,” Senator Turner says. “We also had strong advocates, including [Answer/Sex, Etc. founder and Senior Advisor] Susie Wilson and [NJ gynecologist and surgeon] Dr. Maria Sophocles, who were committed to the passage of this bill.”
What Does This Mean for You?
This bill has no age requirement, meaning NJ adults and teens will have easier access to contraceptives. It will also help individuals in marginalized communities.
“Studies have shown that minority women are less likely to use contraceptives or experience gaps in contraceptive use due to barriers to health care,” says Senator Turner. These barriers include discrimination and disparities in treatment by medical providers. Eliminating the need for a prescription from a doctor provides the opportunity for more consistent contraceptive use.
Young people will also benefit. Teens may choose to use contraceptives for various reasons: to treat health issues like endometriosis, reduce hormonal acne, help with menstrual symptoms, regulate the menstrual cycle, prevent unintended pregnancy and more. However, “Teens face more barriers to accessing contraceptives than adults,” says Weisgerber. “This is due to lack of resources such as money, health care, access to travel and the need to find a health center which falls outside of school hours.” Because teens will be able to visit local pharmacies for contraceptives at a lower cost, many of these obstacles will be eliminated.
Additionally, teens with intersecting identities (like being BIPOC or LGBTQ+) face even more barriers to health care. But with this bill, “Young people will only have to speak with one adult, minimizing the chances of being judged, shamed and stigmatized for wanting contraceptives or discriminated against for an identity they hold,” says Weisgerber.
That being said, we still recommend that decisions about contraceptive use be made with a trusted adult. This could be a parent, caregiver and/or health care provider. “There are organizations with professionals who can help guide young people to make healthy choices,” says Senator Turner.
Just the Beginning
Thanks to Senator Turner’s advocacy, this law takes effect in May. Giving people greater reproductive control over their bodies can lead to less unintended pregnancies and less of a need for abortion.
Still, our country has taken steps backwards with the overturn of Roe v. Wade. The fight for reproductive rights continues. While I am fortunate to live in a state with easier access to contraceptives, more progress must be made so that everyone can receive basic reproductive health care.