South Carolinas will soon be able to access birth control without a doctor’s prescription
COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC) — A pharmaceutical company is now applying to the Food and Drug Administration for permission to make birth control available over-the-counter nationwide.
The company, HRA Pharma, said it does not expect a response to that request until next year, but a new state law will soon expand access to contraception for more South Carolina.
The “Pharmacy Access Act” will allow pharmacists to dispense certain forms of contraception directly without patients needing a medical prescription.
It was passed by both houses of the state General Assembly with strong bipartisan support in the last legislative session, and after Republican Gov. Henry McMaster signed it into law, he told reporters that this law would eliminate unnecessary government regulations and could help reduce abortions.
“If South Carolina wants to be a pro-life state, we need to empower people to avoid unwanted pregnancies, and this law makes it easier, so it’s a good step,” McMaster said.
Proponents believe it will help South Carolinians in a number of ways, including saving them time and money by allowing them to avoid an extra trip to the doctor.
“The cost of going to the doctor just to get a prescription is sometimes a barrier,” Rep. Russell Ott (D-Calhoun) said.
Ott worked to get this legislation, a bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Tom Davis of Beaufort County, passed the state House of Representatives this year after senators approved it the previous year.
He said it would especially help rural parts of South Carolina, like his district, where doctors who have had to write prescriptions for birth control may not be located near their patients.
However, a pharmacy is probably nearby.
“Pharmacists are, quite often, the group of people that patients know,” Ott said. “They know them intimately. They know them by their first names. They’re rooted in communities, so people can get there much more easily than they can get a doctor’s appointment.
Under the law, pharmacists will be able to dispense self-administered contraceptives and inject contraceptive injections, as they can with vaccines. Contraception that requires implantation or insertion, such as IUDs, will always require a visit to the doctor.
Patients under 18 will need to show that they have already received a birth control prescription from a doctor.
Dr. Patti Fabel, associate clinical professor at the University of South Carolina School of Pharmacy, said expanded access to contraception should help improve maternal health in the state.
“If you look at the data, maternal health rates in the Southeast, particularly in South Carolina, are among the worst in the country, and one of the best ways to improve maternal health outcomes is to prevent pregnancies in the first place, especially if those pregnancies end up being unwanted,” she said.
Birth control will still be covered by private insurance and Medicaid, Ott said.
But Fabel said the law does not consider all barriers to accessing contraceptives, including payment and insurance coverage, so South Carolinians who are uninsured or underinsured can still not being able to access it if they can’t afford direct payments.
“We hope we can refer them to resources where they can access it at low cost or for free, but that element has yet to be addressed,” Fabel said.
While the new law is now in effect, pharmacists in South Carolina cannot yet dispense contraceptives without a prescription.
The State Board of Medical Examiners and the State Board of Pharmacy have until early December to draft a protocol on how it will work, including outlining what additional training pharmacists would need and what situations they would not be in. able to dispense contraception without a doctor’s visit.
Pharmacists will also be allowed to opt out if they do not want to participate.
“I don’t think it will be too heavy or bulky at all,” Ott said. “I think we could absolutely have that in effect as early as January next year.”
In response to concerns that some patients may skip visits to the gynecologist if access to birth control is no longer needed, the law requires pharmacists to disclose information to patients about the importance of these appointments .
Following the reversal by the United States Supreme Court of Roe vs. Wade last month there were fears that guaranteed access to contraceptives could also be canceled in the future.
Conservative judge Clarence Thomas even wrote in a concurring opinion on the deer reverse that he thinks the court should review precedents, including one regarding access to contraception, Griswold v. Connecticut.
Ott said that while no one can predict what the Supreme Court will do in the future, he is not concerned about the future of this state law.
“With South Carolina passing this law, I think we’re sending a strong message that we understand the benefits of birth control, so I feel like it’s a good place for us,” Ott said.
More than a dozen other statesincluding North Carolina, and the District of Columbia already offer this option.
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