SOUTHERN INDIANA — A state legislator is aiming to create greater access to birth control in Indiana.
State Rep. Rita Fleming, D-Jeffersonville, is the author of House Bill 1141, a bill that would allow pharmacists to prescribe oral hormonal contraceptives and hormonal contraceptive patches over the counter. The bill, which would apply to women ages 18 and over, was introduced earlier in the month, and it has not yet been heard in the Public Health Committee.
The bill states that women would complete a health screening, have their blood pressure taken at the pharmacy and receive contraceptive counseling. As long as there are no contraindications, or reasons the contraceptive should not be used, they would be able to get their birth control immediately. The bill only applies to prescriptions of oral and transdermal birth control, and Plan B contraception is not included.
Fleming, a recently-retired obstetrician, said pharmacies typically have more accessible hours than healthcare providers, including evenings and weekends, and with over-the-counter access at the pharmacy, it will be easier for women who work all day in 9-to-5 jobs to get the prescriptions they need.
"It’s very important that this bill is heard, because it reflects the health and economic well-being opportunities for Indiana families," she said.
Increased access to birth control would also help address problems such as high maternal/infant mortality and morbidity by reducing unintended pregnancies, Fleming said, and she wants to make it easier for women to space pregnancies at least 18 months from delivery of one child to the beginning of another pregnancy.
"For those who want to control their family size, who understand that it’s a hardship sometimes to have a baby — the woman who’s just finished drug rehab, the woman who’s in a rural setting who doesn’t have easy access to a health care provider, families who are trying to juggle several jobs and raise two children— all of these folks deserve better access to contraception, so let’s get this bill heard in committee, let’s get it passed," she said.
She said with health screenings and blood pressure checks at the pharmacy, over-the-counter prescriptions by pharmacists is a "safe way of prescribing and dispensing this product." Fleming notes that the bill does not involve a collaborative agreement with physicians, unlike legislation in some other states.
Of states that have passed similar legislation, the ones with the greatest participation by insurance agencies and pharmacists are those where the pharmacist acts as both the prescriber and dispenser, she said.
"There are some states with collaborative agreements, they have not worked out as well, because the pharmacists do not get reimbursed for the time spent in taking the history and counseling, so we want to make sure we are fair to all parties," Fleming said. "We want great participation with the pharmacists, and this is the best way to do it.”
Anthony Westmoreland, who owns Westmoreland Pharmacy, said he is "fully behind" House Bill 1141, saying pharmacists are "uniquely positioned" to make birth control more accessible for women.
"To get into helping women with oral contraception and helping them in transdermal contraception, being there as a counselor, being there as a resource for them on a walk-in basis, for me, I think is really important — to establish those communications, those contacts and relationships with the patient," he said. "And I think we’d all agree it’s so much better to plan a family and to put some thought into it and spacing those pregnancies."
A date has not been set for the bill to be heard in the Public Health Committee, and if it is heard and passed in the committee, then it will be considered in the House. Fleming said the bill has also received "tremendous" support from both Democrats and Republicans. The bill's co-authors include two Republican representatives, Brad Barrett and Steve Davisson, along with Democrat Terri Austin.
If the bill makes it to the House, Sen. Ron Grooms, R-Jeffersonville, will be the bill's Senate sponsor, according to Fleming.
"I’ve got a lot of support on the other side, because it’s a bipartisan issue," she said.
The March of Dimes is among the organizations that has expressed support for the bill, along with the Indiana Minority Health Coalition and American College of OBGYN.
"About a third of the counties in Indiana are maternity deserts, so we want our Hoosier families to have access to care in every way possible, and to certain prevent pre-term births and maternal mortality, and this is one way we do that," March of Dimes representative Katrina Thompson said.
This bill could have a "profound impact for Indiana families," Fleming said.
"Women are categorized, they are stereotyped as being careless or unthinking," she said. "That’s not the case most of the time — it’s an access problem. So we’re going to improve access for them."