New Mexico instituted a new policy on Friday allowing pharmacists to prescribe birth control directly to women, part of a wave of state efforts to make it easier for women to get contraceptives.
State health officials said the decision was based on a desire to make it more convenient for women to get medications for preventing pregnancy. Because New Mexico is predominantly rural, people often have to drive long distances to get medical care, said Ben Kesner, executive director of the New Mexico Board of Pharmacy, which approved the rule in April.
The decision comes as other states are taking similar steps, concerned that the Trump administration could roll back access to birth control.
The administration has signaled that it might ease a regulation issued under the Affordable Care Act that requires most companies to cover birth control without a co-pay as part of employee health plans. A draft revision of that rule, obtained by Vox.com, indicates that the administration might broaden exemptions for employers who claim a moral or religious objection to contraception. The White House has not confirmed the veracity of that draft.
In addition, Republicans in Congress are trying to block federal funds from flowing to Planned Parenthood, a well-known abortion provider that also helps many low-income women obtain birth control. Critics of the organization contend that other safety-net providers can take those patients if Planned Parenthood is defunded because of congressional action.
Trump and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price have said they oppose the flow of taxpayer funds to Planned Parenthood because of its role as the nation’s largest abortion provider. And they have both suggested that the contraception mandate under the Affordable Care Act went too far in forcing people of faith to pay for a service they do not support.
Trump signed an executive order that among other things directed HHS to reconsider the mandate. In a news release, Price said he welcomed the directive. “We will be taking action in short order to follow the President’s instruction to safeguard the deeply held religious beliefs of Americans who provide health insurance to their employees,” he said.
Fear that these actions will curtail women’s access to birth control has led some states to take preemptive measures.
Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) last week signed a bipartisan bill requiring health plans to provide women with a 12-month birth-control supplies without a co-pay. Colorado and Washington enacted similar legislation earlier this year, and New York and Massachusetts are considering implementing their own versions.
In April, Maryland enacted a law that would use state money to reimburse Planned Parenthood for any cuts at the federal level.
More than a dozen states have taken some steps to protect contraception access in health insurance plans, said Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute.
For instance, several states have taken steps to ensure that women are able to get a year’s worth of birth control, rather than the shorter-term prescriptions insurance companies often cover.
Kesner said the New Mexico policy was not a result of the national political climate but rather a desire to streamline access to a common type of medication. Under the new rule, women will be able to walk into a pharmacy, talk with a trained pharmacist and then receive, on the spot, a prescription for pills, a patch or an injection.
“Pharmacists are easy-access people,” Kesner said. “So instead of making an appointment with a primary care physician, you can easily go to a pharmacy and get your contraception that way. It’s kind of a convenience thing.”
Erin Armstrong, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said a coalition of medical personnel and advocates such as the ACLU lobbied for the change, which also had to be approved by other medical boards. The effort predated the presidential election and received no significant pushback, she said.
But “in this new environment where we’re seeing more and more threats to contraceptive access, I think we were all feeling a renewed sense of urgency to make sure our state really stands up and makes advances when it comes to reproductive care and contraceptive care,” she said.
New Mexico joins a small group of states that allow pharmacists to prescribe contraceptives, including California, Oregon and Colorado. The District also allows pharmacists to prescribe contraceptives.
Fifty-five percent of pregnancies in New Mexico were unintended in 2010, according to Guttmacher, compared with 45 percent nationally in 2011.