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Birth control must be easily available during the pandemic, legislator says

Senator Shirley Turner | April 13, 2020 | Star-Ledger |


It is heartbreaking and infuriating to see states using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to curtail access to reproductive health care. While we seem to be facing endless uncertainty, one thing women of reproductive age should not have to worry about during this trying time is access to birth control and comprehensive reproductive care.

The COVID-19 crisis has led to skyrocketing unemployment due to layoffs, worker furloughs, and closing businesses and created financial instability and a loss of health insurance in households across America. Now more than ever, health care providers and state entities must work together to remove barriers and ensure that women have access to the contraceptives they need.

Pregnancy is a huge life-changing event that brings certain levels of stress and financial uncertainty in the best of times. If it is an unwanted pregnancy, that stress and fear are 10-fold, but to couple that with a global pandemic and a health care system that is buckling under its weight, the added pressure would be crushing. In this moment, we must ensure more protections for our most vulnerable populations, not less.

We know that making contraceptives affordable and easy to obtain is the best way to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies that may result in the need for abortions. As we move through this crisis and beyond, we should think critically about how we can remove the barriers that may prevent access to these medications.

I have legislation that would increase the accessibility of birth control for all women in the state. The first bill, Senate bill 404, would allow pharmacists to dispense oral contraceptives without a prescription, once an individual has completed a self-screening process with the pharmacist. As forms of contraceptives have advanced and modernized, the way women access them has not. Women must still make time in their busy schedules to see a doctor and get a prescription. During this public health crisis as women are juggling the responsibilities of child care and work, a visit to the doctor for contraceptives may not be possible.

Medical organizations agree that pharmacists can safely dispense contraception without a prescription, and through the use of questionnaires, women can assess their health risks to determine what form of birth control is best for them. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia allow pharmacists to prescribe or directly dispense some types of hormonal contraception without a doctor’s prescription. With few forms of birth control for men, the onus for preventing pregnancies is placed on women, and we should make access to contraceptives as quick and convenient as possible.

The second bill, Senate bill 413, would require insurers to cover prescriptions for contraceptives for up to 12 months. Not requiring prescriptions, and allowing individuals to get up to a full year of birth control at one time will assist those who may not have easy access to doctors or pharmacies and will prevent lapses in coverage – crucial to the ultimate effectiveness of the contraceptives.

As we all brace for what is to come and attempt to come to terms with the uncertainty ahead, it is important that we maintain control over the things within our grasp. Increasing access to birth control and eliminating the need for abortions during this crisis and beyond will assure all women that while they may not be able to control what goes on in the world around them, they can control their reproductive care.

This crisis has forced us, as a nation, to face the consequences of being a country with next to no safety net, no comprehensive health care system, powered by a workforce living paycheck to paycheck. It has shown us who truly keeps our economy going and reminded us of the value of the millions of low-wage service workers who keep our nation running. These are the people we fail when we do not guarantee access to reproductive care in this country.

I hope, when this finally begins to wind down, we take what we have learned from this experience and spend the months that follow enacting meaningful policies that will continue to benefit the people of New Jersey and make us better prepared for the next emergency.

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