- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 3, 2015

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Oregon lawmakers are considering a bill that could make their state the easiest place in the nation for women to access birth control.

The proposal advancing through the Legislature would allow pharmacists to write prescriptions for contraceptives after women pass a risk-screening assessment.

Patients younger 18 would need to see a doctor first, but they could get refills without returning to the physician’s office.

A similar plan passed the California Legislature in a 2013. That bill, however, included a slew of other provisions, and the birth control plan hasn’t been implemented.

The Oregon proposal from Republican Rep. Knute Buehler would go into effect Jan. 1.

The plan easily cleared the House on Tuesday, and now heads to the Senate, where the Oregon Catholic Conference plans to testify in opposition.

“Is there an unexamined assumption that expanded access to birth control is a good thing?” spokesman Todd Cooper asked.

He added: “Will this encourage sexual activity on the part of young girls and boys? And what are the consequences of that?”

The proposal might seem unlikely from a Republican, but Buehler has framed his bill as a common-sense solution that will reduce unintended pregnancies. The Bend representative also says his plan would create consistency, since the law allows over-the-counter purchases of the morning-after pill. “It became apparent to me that right now people can get emergency contraception without a physician visit, but they can’t get preventive contraception,” he said.

Also, in a successful U.S. Senate campaign last year in Colorado, then-U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, a Republican, proposed making birth control pills available without prescription, like aspirin.

Buehler said he hadn’t heard of similar proposals under consideration in other states this session.

The plan would call for pharmacists to write prescriptions, expanding authority they currently use in Oregon to recommend vaccines.

Before patients could receive either birth control pills or a contraceptive patch, they would have to complete a self-administered risk assessment.

Rep. Gail Whitsett, a Republican from Klamath Falls, seized on this in her opposition to the bill Tuesday. “For women to begin taking serious hormones with well documented side effects without a physical exam to me seems unwise at best,” she said.

The Oregon State Pharmacy Association, which supports the plan, has said, however, that “several studies have demonstrated that women can self-screen for contraindications to hormonal therapy. In some cases, women are more likely to identify contraindications than their health care provider.”

Leaders’ representatives have said it’s too soon to speculate on whether the legislation would pass the Democratic-led Senate.

Lisa Anderson, an activist for women’s rights in Portland, however, is pushing for it.

“A huge part of this is just the convenience,” she said. “It’s an extra trip in your day, and the fact you can just walk into your pharmacy and have that anonymity - that’s huge.”

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HB 2879

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