Support for legislation related to reproductive rights often breaks along party lines in Olympia. So it’s a welcome sign that proposals to make it easier for women to obtain contraceptives is getting bipartisan sponsorship this session.
That’s a pragmatic recognition of the fact that better access to birth control is the best way to avoid unwanted pregnancies — and abortions.
House Bill 2465 and Senate Bill 6369 would require insurers to cover 12 months of contraceptives at a time, at the woman’s request. By picking up a year’s supply of birth control pills in one visit, she’d be able to avoid running out before refilling her prescription. Gaps in taking the pills can lead to unintended pregnancy.
Getting a year’s worth of pills instead of regularly refilling decreases the risk of getting pregnant accidentally by 30 percent. Those women are also 46 percent less likely to have an abortion, according to researchers at the University of California San Francisco. Oregon is the only other state with the one-year requirement.
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This legislation makes a lot of sense from a public policy standpoint when such a small tweak can have such a profound benefit — not just to women but to society, which has a stake in reducing unwanted pregnancies.
According to the Brookings Institute, taxpayers spend about $12 billion annually on medical care for women and infants in cases of intended pregnancies. Nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended. Children conceived unintentionally are more likely to face physical and mental health challenges, to drop out of school and commit crimes as teenagers.
Legislators on board from the South Sound include Democratic Sen. Steve Conway of Tacoma, Republican Sen. Joe Fain of Auburn, Democratic Reps. David Sawyer of Lakewood and Christine Kilduff of University Place, and Republican Rep. Michelle Caldier, R-Port Orchard. One of the prime sponsors is Rep. Melanie Stambaugh of Puyallup, a pro-choice Republican.
Stambaugh is also a co-sponsor of House Bill 2681, which would allow women who are at least 18 to get contraceptives directly from specially trained pharmacists instead of having to get a doctor’s prescription. Trouble getting in to see a doctor can mean a delay in starting contraception, which again can lead to unintended pregnancy. Women still would need to see a doctor every three years.
Ideally, birth control would be available over the counter to adults, but this bill — which also has bipartisan support — offers a significant improvement to the status quo. As Stambaugh told The News Tribune’s Melissa Santos, it’s “a step in the right direction” that can build momentum toward the most desired result of over-the-counter access.
Anything that decreases unwanted pregnancies has the side benefit of decreasing the number of abortions. That’s something legislators on both sides of the aisle — or anyone who wants fewer abortions taking place — should support.