N.J. could get prescription-free birth control

By Susan Livio NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

TRENTON — Women and girls who want to use birth control pills or the contraceptive hormone patch would be able to acquire them directly from a pharmacist without a doctor's prescription under a bill a state Senate committee will consider Monday.

California, Oregon and Washington state have adopted similar legislation that is designed to make family planning easier and less expensive for people who lack insurance, have trouble getting a medical appointment or can't take time off of work to see the doctor.

State Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) sponsored the bill in the Senate that is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.

"Making birth control more accessible to millions of women is a worthy goal," said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) who sponsored Turner's bill in the Assembly.

Six women's clinics have closed since the Christie administration eliminated state funding for them in 2010, Huttle noted. Having this law would make getting birth control "more convenient and less expensive than going to the doctor," she said.

Turner's and Huttle's bill (S1073) would permit pharmacists to sell self-administered, hormone-based birth control pills after completing a training program developed by the N.J. State Board of Pharmacy.

Women must first complete and submit to the pharmacist a self-screening tool that identifies patient risk factors for the use of hormonal contraceptives, developed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to the bill. Pharmacists, after dispensing the contraception, would encourage women to see a doctor.

Studies say females who use hormone-based contraceptives may be prone to blood clots and hypertension, especially if they smoke. 

The committee is also scheduled to discuss a similar bill, (S2010) sponsored by Chairman Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex) that would allow over-the-counter sales of select birth control methods, a strategy supported by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Neither piece of legislation applies to any device a physician would have to administer, such as arm implants and intrauterine devices, or IUDs.

In the Turner-Huttle bill, a religious employer, defined as a church or a elementary or high school operated or principally supported by a church or a convention of churches, may request an exemption from providing this coverage if  doing so "conflicts with the religious employer's bona fide religious beliefs and practices," the bill said.

The hearing on the legislation is scheduled for 1 p.m. at the Statehouse.

Susan K. Livio may be reached at slivio@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @SusanKLivio. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook.