DC Bill Would Make Birth Control Available Without Prescription

D.C.'s local government cast an initial vote Tuesday to make birth control available without a prescription at pharmacies -- which would add D.C. to the list of eight states that have similar laws.

Local officials introduced the Defending Access to Women’s Health Care Services Amendment Act of 2017 in response to Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Several D.C. Council members said D.C. needs to make it easier for women to get birth control. 

"We knew that [President Trump] wanted to do harm to health care, but in particular, to women’s health care, not just here in D.C. but across the county," Council member Vincent Gray said at a hearing.

The measure passed unanimously among 12 Council members present at Tuesday’s session. One Council member, Brandon T. Todd, was absent. 

D.C. would join eight states, including Maryland, that have some legal provision for pharmacists to prescribe birth control, according to the National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations. The regulations vary widely by state. 

Many California pharmacies choose not to offer contraception without a prescription, despite state laws that allow pharmacists to prescribe them, The Los Angeles Times reported


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D.C. lawmakers have not yet specified what rules would apply to pharmacists prescribing contraception. They plan to do so later in the legislative process, said Erik Salmi, a spokesman for Councilman Charles Allen. Allen introduced the bill with Council members Elissa Silverman, Mary Cheh, Anita Bonds and Brianne Nadeau. Three other Council members co-sponsored the bill.

Also, the current bill does not lay out how pharmacists can start prescribing, nor does it specify if minors will be able to get birth control at pharmacies. D.C.'s Board of Pharmacy will be tasked with specific rules and regulations.

For now, D.C. residents will still need to schedule a doctor’s visit to get birth control.

No funds have been appropriated to enact the bill, which is expected to cost the city about $477,000 to implement over four years.

Council members need to appropriate the funds and vote on the bill a second time, likely at their next legislative session in January. Then, Mayor Muriel Bowser would have to approve the bill.

If Bowser signs the bill, it would still be subject to congressional review. Congress previously has blocked local laws allowing medical marijuana and allowing city money to fund abortions. Congress eventually allowed D.C. to move forward with both of those laws.

The local chapter of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists told News4 the legislation should go further and make birth control available over the counter, like ibuprofen. However, they voiced support of the bill as a whole.

"This bill is much bigger than that single provision. We support the broader legislation because, in the face of the administration's attempts to undermine coverage, the D.C. City Council can and must be a backstop. With its passage, we will send a message to the Administration: 'women's health is medical, not political,'" the organization's vice chair, Sara Imershein said in a statement.

The bill would enshrine several Affordable Care Act measures into local law. The bill would require insurance companies covering D.C. residents to pay for a number of preventative health services, including breast cancer, diabetes and HIV screenings; well-woman exams; counseling for domestic violence survivors and breastfeeding support. Under the law, insured residents could access those services without paying anything out of pocket. Also, insurance companies would be required to pay for contraceptives.

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