AZ Just Abolished Rx Requirements for Contraceptives. It’s About Time!

Photograph Source: Bryancalabro – CC BY-SA 3.0

Earlier this month, Arizona joined a growing list of twenty states in legalizing over-the-counter (OTC) birth control — and it’s about time! On July 6th, Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs issued an order that allows adults to purchase contraceptives without a prescription, though they’ll still have to take a blood pressure test for screening purposes. This is a huge win for women’s medical freedom in the Grand Canyon state. Ending Rx requirements reinforces the right to self-medicate, discards flimsy safety concerns, and reduces barriers to access for uninsured patients. Other states should follow suit.

Placing restrictions on birth control interferes with women’s ability to self-medicate —  an essential right intertwined with self-ownership, a pillar of individual liberty. Now, Arizonan women can decide whether to try for children now, a few years from now, or never — and they can do it without a doctor’s consent.

While there are plenty of cultural objections to granting people unfettered access to birth control, the most common of these is an understandable misconception: the idea that birth control is essentially chemical abortion. That’s inaccurate. Whereas abortions terminate pregnancies, standard birth control prevents ovulation or fertilization of the ovum to avoid pregnancy entirely.

The truth is prescriptionless access to the pill benefits everyone — even culturally conservative women, who may take it as acne medication.

Most people agree that taking pharmaceuticals without a physician’s supervision is dangerous. Yet, OTC access to contraceptives is an exception to our phobia of reckless drug consumption. A survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 60% of the participants “strongly favor” OTC access to “the pill”. Many polls show that most people support widening access by eliminating prescription requirements. Even experts agree that the risks are minor. Over 100 countries legally permit OTC sales of oral contraceptives. It is difficult to argue that maintaining prescription requirements can be done purely for safety.

In fact, there are plenty of OTC drugs that are a lot more dangerous than contraceptives. Take first-generation antihistamines such as Diphenhydramine (Benadryl), for example. These are readily available over-the-counter, yet high dosages can cause cognitive impairment, hallucinations, and seizures. Or take Tylenol, one of the most common OTC pain relievers, which in large quantities can lead to liver failure and death. There is even already a form of oral contraceptive available without prescription and no age requirements: the Plan B pill. This form of emergency contraception contains ten times the amount of progestin (a synthetic hormone used to prevent pregnancies). If teenagers can freely buy emergency contraceptives, adults should be able to do the same with standard birth control.

Prescription requirements are a prohibitive obstacle for Arizonans without health insurance. In 2019, approximately 800,000 Arizona residents were uninsured. Arizonans typically lack insurance coverage due to immigration status or not qualifying for Medicaid and paying out-of-pocket for doctor’s visits. The high costs of obtaining prescription drugs without insurance have driven Arizonans to seek medications across the border in Mexico. One study found that 90% of US women who obtained contraceptives in Mexico did so to avoid prescription requirements.

For Undocumented immigrants, crossing the border to buy contraceptives means taking a chance they’ll be deported. Ending the prescription requirements eliminates that risk, saving time and money for the uninsured. Governor Hobbs does not have a great record for reducing the role of government in our daily lives, but this standing order is a pleasant surprise. Eliminating this onerous requirement for a relatively safe drug validates medical freedom of female Arizona residents, ignores weak safety concerns, and reduces the hassle of obtaining birth control. Loosening prescription requirements is a policy that Arizona can and should extend beyond contraceptives. For now, this is a wonderful win for medical liberty.

Peter Clark is a writer whose work has been featured in the AZ Capitol Times and the Foundation for Economic Education.