On Thursday, September 15, the Massachusetts legislature voted overwhelmingly to override Governor Mitt Romney’s July veto of legislation permitting pharmacists in collaborative practice agreements with physicians to provide emergency contraceptives to women without a prescription. The measure also requires that sexual assault victims be offered emergency contraception in emergency rooms. This move comes just weeks after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration indefinitely postponed any decision on whether to allow nonprescription status for Plan B emergency contraception, an act that increased the urgency of improving access at the state level. For more information on the FDA’s decision, click here.

Legislatures in a number of states have already taken steps to improve access to emergency contraceptives. Seven states allow pharmacists in collaborative practice agreements with physicians to dispense the pills (AK, CA, HI, ME, NH, NM, WA), and six states require hospital emergency rooms to provide treatment to women who have been sexually assaulted (CA, NJ, NM, NY, SC, WA). Major medical groups are also recommending that doctors dispense the drug in advance for women to keep in their medicine cabinet.

Emergency contraception consists of the same hormone (a progestin) found in ordinary birth control pills. It is not the same as the abortion pill, mifepristone (an anti-progestin). Timely access to emergency contraception is critical, because the pills are more effective the sooner they are taken. Delays caused by the need to obtain and fill prescriptions (particularly over weekends and holidays) can reduce the product’s effectiveness and may prevent many women from starting treatment in time to avoid a pregnancy. Research from the Guttmacher Institute suggests that in 2000, use of emergency contraceptives averted more than 100,000 unintended pregnancies, helping women to avoid an estimated 51,000 abortions.

Click on the links below for more information.

To learn about what states are doing to improve access to emergency contraception, see Increasing Access to Emergency Contraception Through Community Pharmacies: Lessons from Washington State and State Policies in Brief: Access to Emergency Contraception.

The need to increase public awareness of emergency contraception

Steps being taken to improve access to emergency contraception