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Oregon Women Are About to Have the Best Access to Birth Control in the Country

Celebrate the new year by getting tons of birth control.

Starting Jan. 1, Oregon women can all resolve to have a pregnancy-scare-free 2016.

Two bills go into effect tomorrow: House Bill 3343, which says insurers have to pay for a 12-month supply of birth control all at once, and House Bill 2879 (interestingly sponsored by Republican state Rep. Knute Buehler), which adds pharmacists to the list of people who can prescribe birth control.

Oregon is the first state in the country to make insurance providers cover all 12 months at once, and while that may not seem like a big deal to non-birth-control needers, for women using hormonal birth control, it's huge.

"The most effective use of birth control is consistent use," says Mary Nolan, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon. "If you miss even one day, you risk pregnancy."

When women are forced to refill a prescription monthly, it's easy to miss a day or two if they don't get the pills on time. "Consistent use has been shown to reduce the likelihood of unintended pregnancy by 30 percent," says Nolan.

The second bill, House Bill 2879, makes it even easier to get that 12 months of freedom by allowing women to walk into a pharmacy, fill out a questionnaire and, if there aren't any risk factors, be prescribed up to 12 months of hormonal birth-control pills or patches.

"This is a bit unique," says Fiona Karbowicz, pharmacist consultant for the Oregon Board of Pharmacy. "As far as prescriptive authority, this is the first that pharmacists can prescribe in Oregon."

Oregon is the second state to pass a law granting this authority. California passed a similar measure to HB 2879 in 2013, but it hasn't been implemented yet. Oregon will be the first to do so.

The program in Oregon won't mean every pharmacy will participate in the program immediately. The Oregon Board of Pharmacy finished writing the rules in November and as of now, according to Marcus Watt, executive director of the board, about 150 pharmacists are authorized to prescribe the pills or patches.

"It is my understanding that there should be 800 by the end of February," says Watt.

Women under the age of 18 will still have to get their first prescription for birth control from a doctor or nurse before they are eligible to get it from a pharmacist.

Ultimately, these two bills will mean women who don't have time or access to health care can still prevent unwanted pregnancy. "It will substantially help us in our mission of giving women the tools and services they need to make their own reproductive choices," says Nolan.

So far, though, women will have to call around to find out if their local pharmacist has taken the training. "We anticipate the people that are providing it will start advertising and making their presence known," says Watt.

"At this time," adds Karbowicz, "we don't have a list."