Lawmakers move to make contraceptives available over the counter

Bill, stalled since 2015, advances as reproductive rights take center stage nationally

By: - November 14, 2022 1:09 pm

Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) has introduced legislation five times since 2015 to make contraceptives available at pharmacies without a prescription. The bill advanced in the Assembly on Monday, Nov. 14, 2022. (Photo by Dana DiFilippo/New Jersey Monitor)

New Jersey lawmakers advanced a bill Monday that would allow women to buy over-the-counter contraceptives without a prescription.

Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) has introduced such legislation five times since 2015 without success, even though 21 other states and more than 100 countries have legalized prescription-free birth control.

She testified before the Assembly’s health committee Monday and urged legislators to “free the pill and vote for the bill.”

“There are very few forms of contraception for men. Therefore, the onus for preventing pregnancies is really placed on a woman, and it’s way past time to stop making women jump through hoops to have access to birth control,” Turner said.

The committee voted 8-1 to advance the bill, which the full Senate approved in May, with Assemblyman Brian Rumpf (R-Ocean) the lone dissenter.

The bill comes as reproductive rights nationally and locally have dominated political campaigns and conversations, after the U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned Roe v. Wade, which protected abortion as a federal right, and returned the procedure to states for regulation. New Jersey ranks sixth in the nation in the number of unwanted pregnancies that end in abortion, a recent study found.

Turner’s bill would reduce unwanted pregnancies, supporters testified.

“Almost all women in New Jersey are within five miles of a pharmacy. So we are giving them agency and taking away the need to go sit in a doctor’s office, pay a copay — or what happens to most is that they just don’t do it,” said Dr. Maria Sophocles, an obstetrician and gynecologist based in Princeton. “They can’t get babysitting. They can’t get off their job. They play Russian roulette, and then they have unintended pregnancies.”

For women who continue an unwanted pregnancy, Sophocles added, the cost is great.

“The cost of an unwanted pregnancy, just in dollars, is $13,000 to our healthcare system on the day the baby’s born, forget the next whatever years,” Sophocles said. “The emotional cost, of course, is huge. And the cost of taking that woman out of the workforce and of limiting her ability to then go back to work or begin a career or go back to school is also enormous.”

Under Turner’s bill, pharmacists would be able to provide oral, transdermal, or vaginal contraceptives such as birth control pills, vaginal rings, and diaphragms without a prescription.

Pharmacists first would have to undergo training offered by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Women who want to buy contraceptives over the counter would have to fill out a questionnaire, developed by the state Department of Health, intended to screen for risk factors, and that questionnaire would be retained as a health record.

The bill doesn’t address the cost of contraceptives.

Kaitlyn Wojtowicz, vice president of public affairs at the Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey, urged legislators to pass it — but amend it to ensure contraceptives are affordable.

“While 99% of sexually active women will have used birth control at some point in their lives, many struggle to routinely access it because of cost or other barriers,” Wojtowicz said. “It’s important that access to affordable birth control is equitable, regardless of insurance status, and all New Jerseyans should be able to access this birth control. People should never have to choose between getting groceries or getting the basic preventative care that they need.”


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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.