Some female students support legislation that aims to make birth control available without a prescription from a doctor in Arkansas.
Arkansas 69th District Rep. Aaron Pilkington (R) introduced a measure to the Arkansas State Legislature Jan. 15 that would make birth control available at a pharmacy with a prescription from a pharmacist, he said.
The House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor will consider how House Bill 1164 will affect restrictions on birth control Feb. 18, according to Arkansas State Legislature.
“Allowing pharmacists to prescribe birth control essentially makes it over the counter,” Pilkington said. “The reason we did it is because a lot of insurance companies will pay for it that way.”
Kathleen Paulson, the gynecologist at Pat Walker Health Center Women’s Clinic, supports this type of legislation, she said in an email.
Some services available at the clinic include prescribing contraception like birth control pills or intrauterine devices and emergency contraception like Plan B.
Paulson is aware of other states with pharmacists that can dispense birth control pills without a prescription, she said.
When a patient goes to get a prescription for birth control, doctors will review their medical history, family medical history and check their vital signs, Paulson said. Then they will discuss their priorities, like having a regular period or avoiding hormones, with the doctor.
It is legal to get birth control with a prescription obtained online or from a pharmacist in Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, New York, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, D.C. and Washington state, according to Planned Parenthood.
“I think anything that eliminates barriers to contraception is a good thing as long as measures are built in to protect patients,” Paulson said. “If her medical history has any red flags at all, the patient will not be able to get birth control pills over the counter but rather will have to be seen by a medical practitioner.”
Junior Madison Pendergrass, a finance major, has used four different types of birth control, including birth control pills, patches, shots and an IUD, she said. Pendergrass needed a prescription from a doctor for every form and thinks it would be easier if women did not need a prescription.
“I would feel so relieved,” Pendergrass said. “I could just go get one, right, and I would be, ‘Alright kids, who’s sexually active?’”
Pendergrass has two daughters and was pregnant with the first at 19. She thinks birth control is essential, especially with her experience, she said. When she turned 18, her mother stopped paying for her prescription after she received another Depo-Provera shot in March. Depo-Provera shots last approximately three months, so the birth control was no longer effective in June.
“I was like, ‘I’m going to be wild, and I’m not going to use anything,’” Pendergrass said. “And then my daughter was conceived in April. I got real lucky because her dad stuck around.”
Pendergrass is one of the many cases of teenage pregnancy in Arkansas.
Arkansas had the highest teen birth rates in the country in 2015 among females ages 15-19, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The teen birth rate is 32.8 per 1,000 female teenagers, compared to the national average of 18.8, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Pilkington, who was on the Arkansas National Conference of State Legislatures Women and Children’s Health Committee, recognized the high rates of teen pregnancy, he said. The committee started to research how other states addressed the issue with birth control access.
“(Other states have) seen a decrease in the amount of abortions in the state, which I think is something a lot of Arkansans would really like to see,” Pilkington said. “At the same time, it expands (birth control) access as well.”
Junior Whitney Bloodworth, a management major, has used birth control pills since her junior year of high school and has had no issues with it, she said.
“I got it for acne,” Bloodworth said. “When you first get on it, it definitely does mess with your hormones. It literally just rebalances your entire body system, hormone-wise. But now that I’ve been on it for a while, I haven’t had any problems. It’s just a daily part of life.”
Pendergrass’s experience with the pill was very different. She had multiple problems, including abnormal bleeding, bad cramps, acne and weight gain, which affected her behavior, she said.
“I’m surprised I had friends,” Pendergrass said. “I was mean — horrible to everybody.”
She used birth control patches first, which she liked, but her mother threw them away for an unknown reason, Pendergrass said. Then she switched to the shot because of her bad experience. After receiving three shots, Pendergrass was left to get her own prescriptions.
“Now I’m on the IUD,” Pendergrass said. “I can’t sing its praises enough. My face is clear. My moods are more stable now.”
Most people start taking birth control when they become sexually active, said Zac Brown, assistant director of communication at the Pat Walker Health Center, in an email.
“There are many reasons for a person to start using birth control, mainly being to protect against pregnancy when being sexually active,” Brown said. “There are other reasons patients start using birth control, such as period regulation and acne control.”
Birth control pills are the most commonly used form of contraception by students who visit the Women’s Clinic, followed by the Depo-Provera shot, Nexplanon implants and IUDs, Paulson said.
“The pill is by far the most popular because it’s the most well-known and is the least invasive,” Paulson said. “Women like all the other health benefits of the pill beyond contraception, which include cycle regularity as well as decreased PMS, acne, hair growth and ovarian cyst formation.”
In a 2017 National College Health Association Self-Report survey at the UofA, which had 1,022 respondents, 59.5 percent of students who reported sexual activity said they used the birth control pill, according to the survey. Using a condom or a condom plus another form of contraception were also highly reported.
Students who want birth control can get prescriptions from the UA Women’s Clinic, according to Pat Walker. People must make an appointment and bring an insurance card, a list of medicines they are currently taking and a list of allergies. Students pay for services through insurance or they must pay out-of-pocket.
Several different short- and long-term contraception options like the pill, IUD, implant, diaphragm, a shot and condoms are also available to students at the clinic, Brown said.
“As far as deciding which method is best, this is a matter of personal preference,” Brown said. “Finding the right birth control depends a lot on a patient’s lifestyle, their health conditions and convenience.”
Bloodworth’s parents’ insurance covers her prescription. She thinks accessing birth control has not been difficult, so the legislation would not really affect her, she said.
“I think more people would get on it,” Bloodworth said. “While I don’t need it, that may change in a few years when I get off my parents’ insurance. Right now it’s not a big deal, but it would be nice to be able to walk into the store and pick up some birth control.”