Oregonians will be able to buy birth control at a pharmacy without a doctor's prescription beginning next year, potentially making the state the first in the nation to allow the practice.
The bill was overwhelmingly approved in the state House and Senate and was signed by Gov. Kate Brown last week. It will go into effect at the start of next year.
"It makes no sense that men should have unrestricted access to contraceptives, while women must first get a prescription from their physician," said Republican state Rep. Knute Buehler, an orthopedic surgeon who introduced the bill. "Birth control should be as easy and accessible as possible."
California passed a similar law in 2013, but its implementation has been delayed as medical boards wrangle over rules allowing pharmacists to prescribe medication.
In Oregon, the state Health Authority, Board of Nursing and Board of Pharmacy have met to discuss regulations and training to allow pharmacists to prescribe birth control. They already can prescribe smoking cessation drugs and travel pills.
In the U.S. Senate, Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) have introduced measures that would allow women to buy birth control pills approved by the Food and Drug Administration over the counter.
The measures would make it easier for women to obtain birth control because the pills wouldn't require a pharmacy prescription. The two federal bills are pending.
According to the Oregon law, women will now be eligible to buy birth control regardless of whether they have previously received a prescription from a primary care practitioner. Teenagers will be able to obtain hormonal or oral contraception with a previous prescription from a doctor.
"The ability to access birth control when you need it is critically important," said Mara Gandal-Powers, counsel at the National Women's Law Center.
A second Oregon law, which passed the 90-member Legislature in a near-unanimous vote Thursday, allows women to obtain a yearlong supply of birth control instead of refilling their prescription every 30 or 90 days.
Mary Nolan, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, applauded the state measures, saying they made it less likely that a woman would pick up doses late or forgo getting a prescription.
"We know that allowing women to get a yearlong prescription improves its effectiveness," Nolan said. "It's pretty straightforward and simple.
"If you can imagine a woman who lives 30 or 40 minutes away from a pharmacy, having to make two separate trips could be a burden on her, but it doesn't even need to be a woman in a remote or rural part of the state," Nolan said. "A woman in an area that's not well-served could have the same kind of problems."