California and Oregon will be the first two states to allow customers to purchase over-the-counter birth control pills without a prescription from a doctor.
According to the new regulations, pharmacists will be able to give out birth control pills to all women over the age of 18; customers under 18 can still be prescribed contraceptives, but will need a doctor’s prescription beforehand.
There will be minimal medical screenings in place, according to Tech Times, including a mandatory medical history questionnaire and a screening questionnaire before a pharmacist determines whether or not to issue a contraceptive.
Additionally, pharmacists in both states will be required to undergo extensive training before they are allowed to provide birth control pills and other contraceptives to women.
According to Latinos Health, the new laws in California and Oregon differ slightly. In California, for instance, pharmacists will also be allowed to prescribe smoking cessation aids and medications for travel, provide routine vaccinations for children, and order lab tests.
The Oregon law is scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2016, while California still hasn’t determined when its new legislation will officially go into effect (though it is expected to happen within the next year).
These states are the first to loosen up regulations over contraceptives, and as The New York Times reported, most Western countries still require women to obtain a doctor’s prescription before getting hormonal-based contraceptives, such as birth control pills.
However, as the NYT also stated, around 6.6 million pregnancies each year in the U.S. — which equals approximately half of all pregnancies in the country — are unplanned; this is a much higher proportion of unplanned pregnancies than in most European countries.
Advocates of the two new laws are hoping that this legislation will make contraceptives more accessible to low-income women who can’t afford to see a doctor regularly (or simply don’t have the time for these visits) but do not wish to get pregnant.
Birth control pills do not protect against STDs or STIs, which is another serious issue for low-income Americans. It’s already estimated that around 60% of all sexually-active young women never get tested for STIs like chlamydia, for example, and opponents of the lax birth control regulations have expressed concerns that the number of sexually transmitted diseases and infections could increase if birth control is more accessible.
However, experts also believe that the number of abortions and unwanted pregnancies to low-income women will decrease as well, and these improvements could be a major victory for women’s healthcare.