Government

Bill to allow birth control from pharmacist passes first legislative test in Iowa

The State Capitol dome is illuminated by the sunset in Des Moines on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
The State Capitol dome is illuminated by the sunset in Des Moines on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — A three-member panel of state senators approved a proposal by Gov. Kim Reynolds to allow Iowa women to obtain some forms of birth control from a pharmacist without a doctor’s prescription.

The lawmakers gave their support during a legislative meeting on the bill Tuesday at the Iowa Capitol.

“I think this is an important step,” said Sen. Thomas Greene, R-Burlington, also a retired pharmacist. “This is a measure to provide additional care and access to women who have a difficult time getting in to see a physician.”

Six states permitted pharmacists to prescribe contraceptives as of one year ago, according to the National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations.

“This is a logical step, and it’s a good step for Iowa women,” Greene said.

The proposal would allow pharmacists to dispense up to a one-year supply of birth control, including a pill, patch or vaginal ring.

The bill was introduced in the Iowa Senate by Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Ottumwa, also an ophthalmologist.

Reynolds pledged during her 2018 campaign that she would work to expand birth control access for Iowa women. Her bill will receive its first legislative hearing Thursday in the Iowa House and is similar to the one that advanced Tuesday in the Senate.

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A spokeswoman for the governor spoke during Tuesday’s hearing, saying it is the governor’s “passion” to increase access to contraceptives and limit barriers to reducing unintended pregnancies.

Statehouse Republicans in 2017 eliminated state funding to any women’s health care clinics that perform abortions. Critics of that decision note those clinics — most of them run by Planned Parenthood, four of which closed in Iowa as a result of the loss of state funding — also provide birth control services.

“This is closing a gap (that occurred) after action was taken the last couple of years when some clinics closed,” said Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, who said she supports the new legislation.

A Planned Parenthood representative also spoke during Tuesday’s meeting in support of the proposal.

Opposition to the new proposal came from faith-based organizations like the Iowa Catholic Conference and Concerned Women for Iowa.

Miller-Meeks, Greene and Jochum, all of whom supported the proposal, discussed possible alterations, including a fee to help pharmacists to handle an increased workload, some minor liability for pharmacists to prevent reckless prescribing, and a reduced allotment for the first dispensing of birth control to a new patient.

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