Three West Coast states already allow pharmacies to sell hormonal contraception without a doctor's script. Though hormonal pills and patches have not been approved for over-the-counter sale by the Food and Drug Administration, Oregon law
granted permission for pharmacists to prescribe and sell hormonal contraception to women beginning January 1 of this year. California followed suit as of April 8.
Washington state passed a law in 1979 allowing pharmacists the authority to prescribe when working through a collaborative agreement with a doctor, said Jeff Rochon, CEO of the Washington State Pharmacy Association
When this right to request that a pharmacist prescribe and dispense birth control went underutilized by women, the state put together additional legislation that became effective in March 31, explained Rochon. The new law simply increases awareness of the existing right, requiring pharmacists place a sticker in their window indicating that they can prescribe birth control to women without a doctor's visit.
Elsewhere, the movement toward allowing pharmacists to directly prescribe happened only recently.
"This is pretty new. Interest in this didn't pick up until a few years ago," said Elizabeth Nash
, a policy analyst at the Guttmacher Institute. As she explained, California began the process of amending its laws in 2013. Oregon introduced similar legislation just last year but then crossed the finish line first.
Currently, 12 states and the District of Columbia are considering similar bills, Nash said. In most cases, the idea is to allow pharmacists to prescribe not just birth control but also smoking-cessation drugs or other prescription products without the need for a doctor's script.
"It seems to be taking off on the West Coast," Nash said.
Support for these laws is not limited to sexual and reproductive health policy organizations like Guttmacher.
In 2012, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists first expressed its favor of over-the-counter availability of oral contraceptives in a position statement
. The group noted at that time that its recommendation was based on its evaluation of the high level of safety of these medications, balanced against the public health need to help prevent unintended pregnancy.
The group's president confirmed its support this year.
"Birth control is an essential part of women's health care, and over-the-counter status would help more women benefit from the ability to control their own reproductive health," Dr. Mark S. DeFrancesco said in a January statement
, adding that "they are safer than many other medications that are already available over-the-counter."
Though the new contraceptive laws are on the books in Oregon, Washington and California, the actual prescribing and dispensing of birth control may not be up and running in many pharmacies in those states just yet.
Nash noted that the new oral contraceptive laws generally require pharmacies to provide a private consultation space and pharmacists to undergo special training. Naturally, this might take time.
"It is interesting, because in some states, the sponsors are surprising," Nash said, adding how some Republicans have supported these bills. In fact, The Hill
reported last year that some Republicans have taken the trend a step further by supporting rules to allow over-the-counter hormonal contraceptives, with no prescription necessary.
A half-dozen Republican senators have signed onto a bill from Republican Cory Gardner of Colorado. Apparently, Trump's comment already has support from this corner of his party.