Two state boards advanced rules that will allow women to buy birth control without a prescription next year. (Photo by New Jersey Monitor)
Women will be able to buy contraceptives without a prescription in New Jersey as soon as the spring, state officials announced Wednesday.
Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation allowing over-the-counter sales of birth control last January and the law was supposed to take effect in May, but two regulatory boards had to draft and approve rules, slowing implementation.
Wednesday, the State Board of Medical Examiners unanimously advanced rules for participating pharmacists. The State Board of Pharmacy also approved them Sept. 27. The rules still must be finalized, but officials had no timeline for that.
New Jersey will join about 30 other states where pharmacists can prescribe contraceptives.
The move was part of the Murphy administration’s broader push to expand reproductive rights in New Jersey. It also comes at a time when Democrats have ramped up reproductive rights messaging and made abortion a campaign focus, with all 120 seats in the Legislature up for grabs in next month’s general election.
“New Jersey is and New Jersey always will be a safe haven for reproductive health care, period. We’re going to ensure that our daughters do not inherit a world in which they have fewer rights than their parents did,” Murphy said. “We’re going to stand united and say ‘hell no’ to a right-wing movement that is hellbent on ripping away our fundamental freedoms.”
The new law is a big win for Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer), who has introduced such legislation five times since 2015 without success.
With pharmacies on many street corners and some open around the clock, Turner hailed the law as a way to reduce unwanted pregnancies.
“It can take not just weeks but months to get in to see a doctor, and how many women will have unwanted pregnancies waiting to get to see a doctor for a prescription?” Turner said.
New Jersey ranks sixth nationally in the number of unwanted pregnancies that end in abortion, with close to 4,000 abortions a month, a June study found.
Prescription-free contraception also is a victory for women, Turner said.
“Women are responsible for planning families. That falls squarely on their shoulders, in most cases, even though it takes two to tango,” she said.
Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-Mercer), a prime sponsor of the legislation in that chamber, said starting a family is a big decision.
“This will truly have a difference on our communities,” Reynolds-Jackson said. “Access to birth control is not a luxury. It’s a basic health care need and a human right.”
Under the new law, pharmacists will be able to provide oral, transdermal, or vaginal contraceptives such as birth control pills and patches, vaginal rings, and diaphragms without a prescription. Women who want to buy contraceptives over the counter will have to fill out a state Department of Health-developed questionnaire, which will be maintained at pharmacies as a health record, to screen for risk factors.
Any women — not just New Jersey residents — will be able to get prescription-free birth control at participating New Jersey pharmacies, Murphy added.
Pharmacy participation is voluntary, and participating pharmacists must undergo training from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Turner also was the prime sponsor of a law, signed by Murphy in January 2022, that requires health insurers to cover contraceptives for 12 months at a time, instead of the six months previously mandated.
The new contraception laws are just the latest of several measures state policymakers have taken since the U.S. Supreme Court in a June 2022 decision called Dobbs overturned Roe v. Wade, which protected abortion as a federal right, and returned the procedure to states for regulation. Now more than 30 states ban or otherwise restrict abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
“We are now a patchwork-quilt country. It really matters where you live, where you work, and it turns out, where you visit and where you go to college,” Murphy said. “I’m happy to say, as a New Jerseyan, we’re on the right side of all that.”
Since Dobbs, New Jersey lawmakers have mandated insurance coverage for abortion; launched a “strike force” to protect the privacy of people who get abortions; issued a consumer alert on antiabortion pregnancy centers; added $30 million to the state budget for family planning services and another $15 million for abortion clinic security and facility upgrades; and joined a federal court fight to preserve access to the abortion pill mifepristone.
In an effort to increase providers, the state also plans to allow midwives to perform abortions.
“New Jersey is not going backwards,” Lt. Gov. Tahesha Way said. “While other states are taking away rights making it harder to access reproductive health care, our state says no. We will do everything in our power to make reproductive care more accessible, more affordable for every single family.”
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