Oregon opts to dramatically expand women's birth control access

PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - Oregon is poised to dramatically expand access to birth control after Governor Kate Brown signed laws that will allow women to get a yearlong supply of oral contraceptives directly from pharmacists without a trip to the doctor, lawmakers and a legal expert said on Tuesday.

An illustration picture shows a woman holding a birth control pill at her home in Nice January 3, 2013. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

“I would say Oregon is definitely at the forefront,” said Mara Gandal-Powers, counsel for the National Women’s Law Center, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit advocacy group.

One measure, signed by Brown on Monday, allows women to get birth control pills directly from a pharmacist without a doctor’s visit or prescription. Oregon is the second state behind California to pass such regulations.

The other law allows women to obtain a yearlong supply of birth control at a time rather than having to come back every 30 or 90 days, the first such measure in the nation, Brown said after signing the measure last month.

The laws will take effect early next year.

The District of Columbia also has approved a law allowing women to obtain a year’s worth of birth control supplies but it must be approved by Congress before becoming law, Gandal-Powers said.

The two Oregon laws faced opposition from some Republicans who warned of increased healthcare costs and from the Oregon Catholic Conference, which opposes birth control pills on religious grounds.

The Oregon bill that allows pharmacists to directly prescribe oral contraceptives came after bipartisan lawmakers who are also physicians studied California’s proposal.

“Oregon is now the easiest place in the nation for women to access birth control,” Republican state Representative Knute Buehler, who sponsored the bill, said in a statement.

The Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Board of Pharmacists will be responsible for structuring rules to ensure safety, Buehler said.

The other law, granting a year’s supply of pills, was initiated by a Democratic lawmaker who cited studies showing the rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion decrease significantly when women receive a one-year supply of oral contraceptives, instead of in one- or three-month intervals.

The law also requires insurance companies to reimburse patients all at once.

Brown said the measure will benefit women who lack the ability to travel for frequent doctor appointments, such as those living in rural areas or attending college.

Reporting by Shelby Sebens in Portland, Oregon; Editing by Eric M. Johnson and Bill Trott