Q&A

What you need to know about California's new birth control law

Officials announced Friday that girls and women in California can now drop by their neighborhood pharmacy and pick up birth control pills without a prescription from a doctor. It's not technically over-the-counter, but you can get them by talking to a pharmacist and filling out a questionnaire.

The new option is intended to increase access to birth control and reduce unintended pregnancies. State legislators originally passed the law in 2013 but it was held up in regulatory discussions until Friday.

California becomes the third state after Oregon and Washington to allow women to obtain more types of birth control directly from a pharmacist.

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What kinds of birth control can I get? The law covers self-administered hormonal birth control, which means pills, patches, injections and vaginal rings. Anything a doctor would have to insert, such as arm implants and intrauterine devices, or IUDs, you can't get from a pharmacist.

Do I have to be a certain age? No, there's no age minimum.

What will happen when I visit the pharmacy? A pharmacist will take your blood pressure and then ask you to fill out a questionnaire to make sure birth control is safe for you. Then you can ask for a certain kind of birth control, or the pharmacist can recommend one.

Once you've selected a type, the pharmacist will explain how the medicine you've selected works, how to take it and what side effects you might experience. You will also be reminded of the importance of health screenings, such as for cervical cancer, and warned that birth control doesn't protect against sexually-transmitted diseases. Then the pharmacist will give you the medicine along with a birth control fact sheet.

How much does it cost? If your insurance plan pays for your birth control, it should still be covered. It's unclear whether pharmacists will charge for screening patients and dispensing the birth control, but they could.

Can I go pick some up today? Most pharmacy chains said they weren't quite ready to roll out the law on Day One. The best way to find out if your local pharmacy will be participating is to give them a call. 

Which other states allow pharmacists to provide hormonal birth control? Women in Washington state as well as in Washington, D.C., have long been able to obtain birth control without a doctor’s prescription. Oregon began allowing pharmacists to dispense hormonal birth control directly to patients earlier this year, though the state’s law only applies to females over the age of 17. Several other states, including Hawaii and Tennessee, proposed legislation similar to California’s earlier this year.

Why can’t California make birth control pills fully over-the-counter? Only the U.S. Food and Drug Administration can decide if a medicine can be available over-the-counter. The most state legislators can do to increase access to birth control is to allow medical providers other than doctors, such as pharmacists, to furnish the medication.

Federal legislation has recently been proposed that would make hormonal birth control truly over-the-counter.

Follow @skarlamangla on Twitter for more health news.

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Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

4:19 p.m.: This article was updated with information about other states that allow pharmacists to provide hormonal birth control, and with information about over-the-counter birth control.

This article was originally published at 12:15 p.m.

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