The issue: Limited access to birth control puts the health of women and their babies at risk.

Our view: Allowing pharmacists to prescribe oral contraceptives over the counter would improve health outcomes.

A bill introduced in the Indiana General Assembly would make it easier for Hoosier women to buy oral contraceptives.

House Bill 1141, authored by state Rep. Rita Fleming, a retired obstetrician, would give pharmacists the ability to prescribe birth control pills and patches over the counter to women 18 and older.

Before they could get a prescription, women first would undergo health screenings, a blood pressure check, and contraceptive counseling at the pharmacy.

The rate of unintended pregnancies in the U.S. is 45%, according to Fleming, who believes the high rate results from limited provider access and availability.

The national nonprofit March of Dimes, which works to improve the health of mothers and babies, agrees. The organization notes that a third of Indiana counties are “maternity deserts,” which it defines as a place “where there are not enough hospitals, health care providers or health care services for pregnant and postpartum women.”

HB 1141 can mitigate those circumstances by improving access to birth control. Women would have more control over regulating the frequency of their pregnancies and ensuring that when babies are born, they are welcomed into families that are economically and emotionally prepared.

Fewer unintended pregnancies could reduce our state’s high infant mortality numbers. Indiana has one of the highest rates of infant mortality — the number of infant deaths (before age 1) per 1,000 live births — in the nation, as measured by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United Health Foundation. UHF’s America’s Health Rankings for 2019 showed Indiana at 7.4; the national ranking was 5.8.

Another important aspect of HB 1141 is that it requires health plans to provide coverage of contraceptives, lessening the financial burden for women and providing reimbursement to pharmacists. It also includes an exception for nonprofit religious employers, and that’s important, too.

The bill has garnered bipartisan support among House representatives and already has a sponsor in the Senate, should it make its way to the full House. The legislation first must be taken up by the Public Health Committee, which should schedule a hearing.

Make no mistake: HB 1141 stands to be transformative. It’s a practical, direct-service measure that has the potential to turn arid maternity deserts into oases of care.

— The News and Tribune, Jeffersonville

Recommended for you