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Sunday June 4th

New N.C. law provides access to birth control without a prescription

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North Carolinians will have access to birth control without a doctor’s prescription under a new state law that went into effect last week, but don't go running to your local pharmacy yet. 

House Bill 96 allows certified pharmacists to provide oral contraceptives to patients after conducting a consultation. 

This law does not mean birth control will be equivalent to over-the-counter medication, according to NC Director of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic Jillian Riley. Pharmacists will be required to provide counseling to the patient before administering the medication. 

“Folks will be able to get the birth control the same day directly from the pharmacy without the need to travel to a doctor's office,” Riley said. “But they will need to speak to the pharmacist, who is a medical professional, and complete a questionnaire before receiving the oral contraception.”

H.B. 96 requires pharmacists who administer hormonal birth control to do the following: 

  • Provide information about preventative care,  including well-woman visits, sexually transmitted infection testing information and Pap smear testing.
  • Maintain a medication record in a patient profile.
  • Notify the patient’s primary care provider within 72 hours of administration. If a patient does not identify a primary care provider, the pharmacist must direct the patient to information about federally qualified health centers, free clinics and local health departments. 

Some forms of emergency contraceptives, such as Ella, are not included in the law and still require a doctor's prescription.  

Although the law went into effect Feb. 1, Campus Health Director of Pharmacy and Professional Services Amy Sauls said individuals will not be able to walk into a pharmacy and get birth control just yet. The state health director must issue an order before the medication can be dispensed at the pharmacy level. 

"It is a piece of paper basically that says under my authority as this as the state's health director, I give these pharmacists that meet these qualifications, the authority to prescribe this medication," she said. 

It is unclear when the order will be issued, but Sauls said it will hopefully be in the next few months. 

Expanding access

Riley said the ability to receive birth control from a pharmacist reduces barriers for reproductive rights and broadens healthcare in North Carolina. 

“Specifically, this will really help folks living in rural parts of the state who otherwise may not be able to easily visit a doctor's office,” she said. 

There are other barriers people face when it comes to birth control access, Riley said. Some don’t have the ability to find childcare, take time off work or meet with a doctor to attain medication. 

Yena Ismail, UNC junior and publicity chairperson of the UNC Health Careers club, said she thinks the law will take a burden off of individuals, especially for young women whose families would not let them get on birth control. 

“There are a lot of girls who can’t go to a doctor or their family provider, and (say), ‘I want to be put on birth control’ because they're scared,” she said. 

Health implications

An increase in contraception has an effect in reducing unintended pregnancies — especially among teenagers, Riley said. 

In 2019, there were 23,495 abortions for women aged 15-44 in North Carolina, according to NCDHHS data. Non-Hispanic Black Americans made up 45.55 percent of the total abortions for the year. 

In 2020, the total number of abortions increased by 6.65 percent — with 25,058 abortions for North Carolina women aged 15-44. Non-Hispanic Black Americans made up the plurality of the abortions again, at 49.27 percent. 

But, birth control is not just for contraception purposes.

Ismail said she knows people who use birth control for reasons other than contraception, such as for endometriosis or to reduce period symptoms. She hopes the law will help individuals make choices they feel are the best for their bodies. 

“It's going to help a lot of people take control of their health and help them regain some sort of bodily autonomy,” she said. 

Currently, the 49-year-old Roe v. Wade decision that established safe and legal abortion as a constitutional right is being challenged in courts across the country.

Ismail said she has been concerned about the recent attacks on reproductive rights and believes the law is a step in the right direction.

“For us, it really is about increasing access to birth control which better improves the reproductive rights of folks everywhere,” Riley said.

Assistant City & State Editor Emmy Martin contributed to the reporting. 


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