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Wisconsin Assembly bill would let pharmacists prescribe birth control

Patients would first have to complete self-assessment questionnaire, undergo blood pressure screening

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A one-month dosage of hormonal birth control pills.
This Friday, Aug. 26, 2016 photo shows a one-month dosage of hormonal birth control pills in Sacramento, Calif. Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo

A bipartisan group of Wisconsin lawmakers are working to pass a bill that would allow pharmacists to prescribe birth control.

Rep. Joel Kitchens, R-Sturgeon Bay, is the lead author of the legislation. He said in a public hearing Tuesday it would lead to fewer unplanned births and abortions in the state.

“This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. Most of the states that have enacted the legislation have been red states,” Kitchens said before the Assembly Committee on Health, Aging & Long Term Care. He pointed to North Carolina, Arkansas, Arizona, Illinois, Nevada and Indiana as states that have passed similar legislation.

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“We should not be putting up artificial barriers to prevent increased access to birth control, especially when there’s no medical basis to do so,” Kitchens added.

The bill has received bipartisan support with Democratic Reps. Ryan Clancy and Christine Sinicki of Milwaukee and Darrin Madison and Lisa Subeck of Madison co-sponsoring the legislation.

The proposal comes less than a month after a Food and Drug Administration experts panel recommended the approval of the country’s first over-the-counter birth control pill.

Medical groups registered in favor of the bill include the Wisconsin chapter of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Wisconsin Association of Local Health Departments and Boards, the Wisconsin Primary Health Care Association and Wisconsin Public Health Association.

The Wisconsin Catholic Conference, Wisconsin Family Action Inc. and Pro-Life Wisconsin are registered against the legislation.

Pro-Life Wisconsin Legislative Director Matt Sande said the group is “opposed to all forms of artificial contraception — both hormonal and barrier methods.” He also called birth control pills “abortifacients,” or drugs that induce abortions.

Patients would no longer have to go to their primary care doctor for birth control

Under current state law, only doctors can prescribe hormonal birth control. The bill would grant pharmacists authority to prescribe and dispense hormonal contraceptive patches and “self-administered oral hormonal contraceptives,” or birth control pills.

To get a prescription from pharmacists, patients would first have to complete a self-assessment questionnaire and undergo a blood pressure screening. Pharmacists would also be required to alert the patient’s primary health care practitioner following a prescription. The legislation would bar prescriptions to anyone under the age of 18.

Kitchens said at the hearing that participation by pharmacists would be voluntary.

Similar legislation passed the Assembly in 2019 and 2021, but never made it past the Senate. Its reintroduction comes at a time when Wisconsin is engulfed in an ongoing battle over abortion law. After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, the state’s pre-Civil War abortion ban rolled back into effect.

Rep. Barbara Dittrich, R-Oconomowoc, is a co-sponsor of the bill. She said it “makes tremendous sense, especially if we want fewer abortions in the state.”

Kitchens and others who spoke at the hearing described the barriers many women face in obtaining birth control, ranging from limited access to transportation, challenges booking appointments and taking time off work.

In his testimony, Kitchens said Oregon — the first state to have passed the pharmacist birth control bill — has seen encouraging results. He cited research that in the first two years after the law took effect, the state prevented more than 50 unintended pregnancies and saved an estimated $1.6 million in taxpayer costs.

An April study from the think tank Guttmacher Institute surveying women in Arizona, New Jersey and Wisconsin found that a majority of women ages 18-44 prefer more than one source of contraception. Of the respondents, 71 percent expressed interest in pharmacy-based contraception.

Dr. Marina Maes, with the Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin, said pharmacists are well-trained to prescribe birth control medication. She also said it would increase access to the drugs.

“As a pharmacist who works in a rural primary care clinic, I’ve seen firsthand how challenging it can be for patients to get in for an appointment with their primary care provider,” Maes said.

Kitchens said he’s optimistic the legislation will pass, noting it received wide support in the past.

Subeck, Assembly Democratic Caucus Chair, asked Kitchens why the bill didn’t include other options like the NuvaRing or injections to broaden the options for prescription birth control.

Kitchens responded, “politically, I’m getting done what can be done.”

“I’m open to later looking at those others. And if they’re proven effective and safe and all of that, I think they’d be worth considering, but I certainly think this would be an enormous first step,” he said.

The Assembly is expected to vote on the bill this session. It then must pass the Senate before landing on Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ desk.

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