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Indiana house committee advances bill to increase birth control access

The Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis.
Wikimedia Commons
The Indiana House Committee on Public Health has passed a bill that would allow pharmacists to prescribe hormonal birth control without an appointment or prescription.

An Indiana House committee has advanced a bill that would make it easier for people to access birth control.

On Tuesday, the House Committee on Public Health unanimously approved House Bill 1568, a measure that would allow pharmacists to prescribe hormonal birth control to people 18 and older without an appointment.

It would require additional training for pharmacists, who would also provide a self-screening risk assessment tool to patients and refer them to their primary care providers for follow-up.

Dr. Teresa Lovins testified on behalf of the Indiana Academy of Family Physicians. She said the bill could make access more equitable by cutting out things like the cost for an office visit, or the time needed for a pelvic exam.

“Many of these barriers create a greater gap of access for the young adults and uninsured women in Indiana,” she said. “Now more than ever, it is important to find ways to prevent any unwanted or unplanned pregnancies.”

Some providers expressed concern. Maureen Morgan, a pharmacist who testified early in the hearing, said other states have enacted similar laws, but they did so prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Morgan said that has put extra stress on pharmacists and that prescribing birth control would compound that, and could create risk for liability.

“The addition of on-demand patient consults without additional staff in an already hectic atmosphere is an unrealistic expectation, and I think it’s short-sighted,” she said. “...So please do not put the insufficiency of medical care availability on the shoulders of pharmacists.”

The bill doesn’t require pharmacists to prescribe birth control. They can choose not to if they feel it would be harmful to the patient, or if they object on religious or moral grounds.

Legislation to allow pharmacists to prescribe birth control has faced pushback from Indiana Right to Life. The anti-abortion rights group included that in a statement of key positions sent to lawmakers ahead of the 2022 special summer session.

During that session, Indiana lawmakers passed a near-total ban on abortion. That law is currently blocked, but the Indiana Supreme Court is weighing its merits.

“The risks associated with birth control can be significant for some patients, depending on a variety of factors,” the Right to Life statement reads, in part. “It’s important that a woman taking drugs sees a doctor who knows the risks associated with them and also has access to a patient’s medical charts.”

The group also worried allowing birth control to be prescribed in pharmacies could open the door for abortion medication to be prescribed similarly.

An amendment approved Tuesday adds language that restricts pharmaceuticals containing progesterone receptor antagonists, which can cause an abortion.

This amendment also specifies that a pharmacist prescribing medication to cause an abortion could be charged with a level 5 felony and face license suspension — mirroring the language in Indiana’s sweeping abortion restrictions passed during the special summer session.

LaKimba DeSadier spoke at Tuesday’s hearing on behalf of Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates of Indiana. She said she’d arrived ready to “strongly support” the bill, until hearing the amendment.

She said that birth control is needed for people to have autonomy over their bodies and family planning, and that the bill is an important step toward conversations about that.

“[But] this amendment … has thrown us off and we will be neutral with this bill moving forward,” she said.

Republican Rep. Elizabeth Rowray of Yorktown authored the bill. Democratic Rep. Rita Fleming of Jeffersonville, a retired OB-GYN, is a co-author.

Since taking office in 2018, Fleming has worked to pass the legislation. She said it would make it easier for people to get birth control after work hours at a pharmacy.

“Women in general are healthier if they're on birth control pills…than not,” she said. “They're getting pregnant when they want to get pregnant, they have less ovarian cancer, they have less endometrial cancer.”

The bill will now go before the full House for consideration.

Coverage of Southern Indiana is funded, in part, by Samtec, Inc. and the Hazel & Walter T. Bales Foundation.

Aprile Rickert is LPM's Southern Indiana reporter. Email Aprile at arickert@lpm.org.

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