SALEM, Ore. (TheBlaze/AP) — Each month, women who take the birth control pills make the trek to the pharmacy to have their monthly prescription refilled, but a new law that passed in Oregon this week could reduce those 12 trips down to one. It's something religious groups though say could come with unintended "social consequences."
The move is meant to save people — busy students, rural women with long drives and travelers on the road when their packs run out — some of the hassle of visiting the drug store each month.
The first-of-its-kind insurance law will allow women to obtain a year's worth of birth control at a time, instead of the 30- or 90- day supply available now.
Gov. Kate Brown signed the legislation Thursday, saying it "has a simple premise that I whole-heartedly believe in: increase access and decrease barriers."
Supporters say the measure will reduce unintended pregnancies and make things easier for women, since they won't need to visit pharmacies as often.
The plan passed the Legislature easily and is part of a push from Democrats and Republicans alike to expand access to birth control in the state. Oregon legislators also are considering a widely supported proposal that would allow pharmacists to write birth control prescriptions for women who pass a self-administered risk-screening assessment.
The Catholic church opposes contraceptive expansion, saying Oregon's measures could have "moral implications and social consequences."
Todd Cooper, a spokesman for the Oregon Catholic Conference, which testified against the bill earlier this month, told KGW-TV at the time that they planned to ask questions like:"Is there an unexamined assumption that expanded access to birth control is a good thing? Will this encourage sexual activity on the part of young girls and boys? And what are the consequences of that?"
Critics of the new law also say it could increase health care costs for employers and insurers. It could be wasteful to dispense a year's worth of pills, for example, since a woman could decide to stop taking them or choose to switch prescriptions, they say.
"To me it's just a checkbook issue, plain and simple," Rep. Julie Parrish, a West Linn Republican, who opposed the measure.
Mary Nolan, interim executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, however, said the benefits of the plan "are so obvious once you point them out. People had been accustomed to going along with 30 days for so long that people hadn't really questioned it."
She said the proposal has drawn interest from lawmakers in California, New York and Washington state. A similar measure is pending in Washington, D.C., reproductive rights expert Elizabeth Nash said.
Insurance companies typically cover a 30- or 90-day supply of contraception, Nash said. But a year's supply "would reduce the potential for skipping pills or not having her patch or ring when she needs it," the Guttmacher Institute researcher said.
The plan would require women to first get a three-month supply to make sure there are no adverse reactions. Subsequent prescriptions could be filled for a year at a time.
The law goes into effect Jan. 1.
Oregon's moves to expand access to contraception stand in contrast to efforts elsewhere.
Some more conservative states have focused on allowing pharmacists to opt out of dispensing contraception if they have religious objections. And a recently passed Missouri law would have required insurers to issue policies that don't cover birth control if individuals or employers said contraceptives violate their moral or religious beliefs. A federal judge, however, struck that down last year as unconstitutional.
Nolan said Oregon has traditionally been a champion for women's rights, citing a 1969 move to decriminalize abortion that came several years before Roe v. Wade.
"We have a long history," she said, "of really strong advocates for health care for women — and particularly around reproductive health care."
Over-the-counter access to birth control has also recently been brought up in Congress, but some say it's just a political move:
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