Utah’s new birth control law is just the beginning of progress

Utah’s new birth control law is just the beginning of progress
© Getty Images

On Tuesday, Utah Republican Gov. Gary Herbert signed a law that allows women to access birth control directly from their pharmacist. The new law, which received bipartisan support in the state legislature, is an encouraging step forward for the women of Utah. But we’ve still got a ways to go.

Let’s be clear: Expanding access to birth control requires a multi-faceted, comprehensive approach. Reducing the number of trips needed to obtain a birth control prescription is a victory — but it doesn’t mean much if women can’t afford their birth control or can’t access the method that’s right for their body.

ADVERTISEMENT
But let’s start with the good. Anyone 18 years or older in Utah will soon be able to go home with the pill, patch, or ring after one trip to the pharmacy, rather than making an appointment with a health care provider every time they want to renew their prescription. This is especially important for those who live in rural areas, as it significantly reduces the time and energy required to get the birth control they need.

 

Making it easier to get contraception is a no-brainer. Research shows that improved access to contraception leads to fewer unintended pregnancies and enables women to complete school; advance in their careers; and have a family if and when they’re ready. Considering that nine out of 10 women will use birth control at some point in their lifetime, laws that reduce barriers to birth control benefit a significant portion of the population.

This is about a woman’s right to control her body and decide if, when, and how she starts a family. But studies show that the out-of-pocket costs associated with birth control are a major barrier to access. In fact, 55 percent of women age 18-34 reported having struggled to afford birth control at some point in their lives.

While some conservative lawmakers point to support of over-the-counter birth control as evidence of a pro-woman agenda, the truth is that these policies could actually lead to women paying more out of pocket for birth control that they’re now getting at no cost. In the case of Utah’s recent law, patients will still be able to bill their insurance when a pharmacist administers birth control.

We can celebrate wins like the new law in Utah while still fighting to protect Title X funding, the birth control benefit under the Affordable Care Act, and research for new, long-acting contraception options. All of these efforts work in tandem to reduce barriers to birth control for all women, regardless of where they live or how much money they make. These programs are essential in counteracting discriminatory public policies that have historically limited access to care for certain communities.

Fortunately, Gov. Gary Herbert signed the pharmacy birth control measure on the same day that he approved a proposal to support family planning services for women with low incomes. These combined actions show a promising shift in conservative lawmakers acknowledging that we must work together, across the aisle, to reduce barriers to health care for women and families.

As Republican state Sen. Todd Weiler (R-Utah), who sponsored the new measure, told the Associated Press, “I think five years ago, it wouldn’t have passed, but I think the world and Utah is changing.”

Laws that allow women to get birth control directly from their pharmacists have already been passed in California, Colorado, and Oregon. When these measures are combined with other benefits, such as those under the ACA and Title X, they go a long way in improving the lives of women. Unfortunately, the Trump-Pence administration is hyper-focused on undoing that progress by waging unprecedented attacks on access to birth control.

Despite this administration’s dogged efforts, we won’t go backwards. We’ll keep fighting forward, speaking out, and working with lawmakers at the state level to enact positive policies that protect our rights and expand access to health care.

So while there is still much work to be done, let’s give credit where credit is due. Gov. Herbert and Utah’s state legislators’ commitment to reducing barriers to accessing birth control is a meaningful step in the right direction. Our hope is that this is just the beginning.

Emily Stewart is the vice president of public policy at Planned Parenthood Federation of America