Iowa Senate Votes To Expand Birth Control Access

Mar 28, 2019

The Iowa Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would allow women 18 and older to obtain some forms of birth control directly from a pharmacist without first seeing a doctor.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds made this a priority and submitted the original proposal to lawmakers.

Iowans who want to get birth control pills, contraceptive patches and vaginal rings directly from a pharmacist would first complete a health questionnaire and a blood pressure screening. Then the pharmacist would decide if it’s safe to dispense birth control or to refer the patient to a doctor.

Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Ottumwa, said as a physician, she thinks this method of obtaining birth control will be safe.

“I’m going to rely upon my experience with women and caring for women that were intelligent, capable, that were knowledgeable,” Miller-Meeks said. “We’re not going to avoid going to a doctor merely because we can get a prescription refilled without having seen that provider.”

The bill passed 42-6, with six Republicans voting against it.

Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Hiawatha, said it was a “big day” because the Senate moved this forward.

“Women understand intimately the issue around access to birth control,” she said. “This just gives us a lot more choices, and women in rural areas and in urban areas a lot more choices for their birth control.”

Mathis pointed out Republicans did not support the concept when Democrats previously proposed it.

Other Democrats noted this doesn’t replace the need for better access to health care for women.

Sen. Claire Celsi, D-West Des Moines, said the bill leaves out teenagers, long-acting forms of birth control, and involvement of doctors.

“I want to acknowledge the fact that it’s not just about opening up that pack of birth control pills every month and gobbling down your birth control pills so you don’t get pregnant,” Celsi said. “A woman’s health care needs are much more complex.”

Republicans in the Iowa Legislature voted in 2017 to strip family planning funding from clinics that also provide abortions, which led to clinic closures and a drop in low-income women accessing birth control and other services through the state family planning program. Reynolds was lieutenant governor when that policy was approved.

Republican senators who voted against expanding access to birth control did not speak on the Senate floor. But some supporters did.

“As a mother of a daughter, I think this is another layer of options for women in our state,” said Sen. Carrie Koelker, R-Dyersville. “It helps with family planning and unwanted pregnancies. I’m excited to see this type of legislation my freshman year in the Senate.”

Reynolds said in a statement that lawmakers should take a look at any policy that can prevent unintended pregnancies.

“I want to thank the Senate for working with me to increase access to contraception for Iowans,” Reynolds said. “The policy makes sense, and it’s the right thing to do.”

The bill now goes to the House, where the proposal got initial approval from a committee.