INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana residents could have access to birth control without a doctor’s prescription under a bill state lawmakers sent to the governor Tuesday, a move proponents say will prevent unwanted pregnancies in a state that passed an abortion ban last summer.
The state House bill is key to providing women quicker access to contraceptives, bill sponsor Republican Sen. Sue Glick said Tuesday, especially in areas where they struggle to receive primary care.
Glick, who sponsored the state’s abortion ban, called the bill “a furtherance of the bills we heard this summer.”
“We have individuals who have been referred to their primary physicians or to a primary physicians. Many of them don’t go to the doctor, they can’t afford it or they don’t have access,” she said before the 28-20 vote. “This is an effort to give care to individuals who need it. It’s an effort to help these individuals have healthy families at their time.”
If approved by GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb, pharmacists could be reimbursed for their services to Medicaid patients. They would also be able to object to prescribing the medications under “ethical, moral, or religious grounds.”
Prescriptions, however, cannot last more than six months, and pharmacists cannot prescribe a contraceptive to a woman after twelve months “unless the woman has been seen by a physician, advanced practice registered nurse, or physician assistant” in the past year.
“If you are against abortion, you ought to be for contraceptives,” Republican Sen. Vaneta Becker said before voting for the bill.
To opponents who want birth control to only be prescribed by physicians, the bill is “unequivocally lowering the standard of care,” Republican Sen. Tyler Johnson said Tuesday. The emergency medicine doctor also questioned whether access to birth control would decrease abortions in Indiana.
State legislatures across the U.S. have introduced at least 30 bills related to birth control access this year, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.
New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy earlier this year signed a law that would allow women in the state to receive some hormonal contraceptives without a prescription. That law goes into effect in May.
While the Indiana legislature seeks avenues for contraceptive access, the state’s abortion ban remains on hold pending a decision from the Indiana Supreme Court. Abortion clinic operators filed a lawsuit against the ban, which has not been enforced since September.
But the drive for pharmacist-prescribed birth control has cropped up in Indiana before this year — most recently this summer, when Democratic Rep. Rita Fleming introduced an amendment with such language into a spending bill for low-income women and children that lawmakers advanced alongside the abortion ban.
That amendment fell short by one vote.
“We were awfully close then,” Fleming told the Associated Press on Tuesday. “I think the good of providing this for women in a safe manner is incredibly important.”
A House committee earlier Tuesday also unanimously approved a bill that could allow long-acting reversible contraceptives, such as intrauterine devices, to be transferred between Medicaid patients, something that is currently prohibited.
If a Medicaid patient does not return for an insertion appointment after 12 weeks for a device they requested, a medical provider could reissue that contraceptive to a different patient, under the bill, which now goes to the full House.
Providers do not typically keep the implant devices on the shelf because of their high costs, leaving “thousands of dollars of these unclaimed,” Democratic Sen. Shelli Yoder, the bill’s author, said Tuesday.
“Health care providers are only able to recoup that cost after it’s inserted or implanted,” she said. “The only thing they can do is wait. And if they expire, they throw them away.”
This story was first published on April 11, 2023. It was updated on April 14, 2023, to correct the type of access to birth control in the Indiana bill. It would be available with a pharmacist’s prescription, not over the counter.
Arleigh Rodgers is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/arleighrodgers