Oregon is marking the first year of the enactment of a law that no longer requires women to make an appointment with their primary care provider to be able to receive a prescription for hormonal birth control pills. Women in Oregon are now able to purchase these pills over the counter from their pharmacist.
Their counterparts in California expect to avail themselves of the same convenience soon with the likely passage of a similar law.
This development has drawn praise from medical experts.
"This is an important step forward in liberating women from the paternalistic policy of essentially making them pay a toll—a doctor's office visit—for contraception," writes Phoenix, Texas Dr. Jeffrey Singer on TIME.com.
He argues that going to the doctor means "added expense and inconvenience" for some women who opt to forgo oral contraceptives and use "less desirable methods or no contraception at all."
Singer said for years, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology has recommended that oral contraceptives be made available over the counter. This view is shared by 76 percent of physicians, according to a 2015 survey by the University of California San Diego and UC San Francisco.
He said proper warning and education will minimise abuse and misuse of contraceptives just like other over-the-counter medications.
While not visiting a doctor means that women would not obtain preventive care, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology said that "cervical cancer screening or sexually transmitted infection (STI) screening is not required for initiating OC [oral contraceptive] use and should not be used as barriers to access."
"Adults are perfectly capable of making their own preventative health decisions, and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology concurs with this viewpoint," Singer said.
Under Oregon and California laws, pharmacists will require women to fill out a questionnaire and have their blood pressure checked.
The New York Times reported that pharmacists who have completed Oregon training protocol can issue prescriptions directly.
"It is debatable as to how many unwanted pregnancies would be prevented by making birth control pills available over the counter. What is not debatable is that there will be a lot less spending on unwanted—and unnecessary—visits to the doctor's office in order to get a prescription," Singer said.