These days, the right wing in the U.S. isn’t content to just fight against women having access to safe and legal abortion. In January, the Trump Administration rolled back the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate by broadening employers’ ability to find a reason not to provide contraceptive coverage to their employees. It was a huge assault on women’s access to affordable birth control nationwide, and lower courts blocked it (this week, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case). Then in late May, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas launched an assault on birth control with a dangerously twisted accusation that Margaret Sanger, who had championed access to birth control in the first half of the 20th century, in fact supported contraception because she wanted to kill black people. Sanger had awful views on eugenics, sure, but Thomas’s assertion is simply wrong. As Amanda Marcotte argued in Salon on May 29, “Conservatives are coming for your birth control.”
Here in California, Democratic state legislators are actively fighting back against the right by trying to make it easier for women to get birth control pills. In 2016, Senate Bill 464 passed, allowing Planned Parenthood patients to get birth control through the organization’s PPDirect mobile app. While it made things easier for patients, they still had to do a live video chat through the app to get the pills (other states, like Connecticut, also have the mobile app but don’t have the video chat requirement). A state Senate report released earlier this month adds that pharmacists in California have been able to prescribe birth control since 2016, but only 11 percent of pharmacies here are dispensing birth control pills to women who don’t already have prescriptions. Now, Assembly Bill 1264, authored by Assembly member Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach), aims to fix all this.
“Today, in order to request birth control by way of telehealth, a patient must answer a health questionnaire, self-report their blood pressure, and schedule a video chat before submitting their request for contraceptives,” says a statement from NARAL Pro-Choice California in support of the bill. “Yet, Doctors have found that a teleconference visit to access birth control is medically unnecessary. This is why we must clarify telehealth law in order to reduce burdensome requirements and expand access to birth control.”
The bill, which is sponsored by Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, would “significantly expand access to contraceptives in California” by getting rid of the video chat requirement, according to an Assembly staff report on the bill released in April.
“Today, in order to access birth control on PPDirect, a patient must answer a health questionnaire, self-report their blood pressure, and schedule a video chat before submitting their request for contraceptives,” said Petrie-Norris in the April 23 Assembly Committee staff report. “Current requirements for a teleconference visit are medically unnecessary and it is estimated that 50% of patients do not fulfill this specification and therefore cannot receive contraception. We must clarify the ability for birth control to be prescribed via teleconference without a video chat in order to expand access and address the unmet needs for birth control in California.”
The bill passed an Assembly floor vote on May 13, and was referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 17.
“AB 1264 will provide birth control access to tens of thousands of Californians who cannot easily access care in a health center,” said Petrie-Norris in a June 17 news release sent out by her office. “Just like 15 other states have already implemented, increased access to birth control through virtual care will help providers meet patients where they are.”
Anthony Pignataro has been a journalist since 1996. He spent a dozen years as Editor of MauiTime, the last alt weekly in Hawaii. He also wrote three trashy novels about Maui, which were published by Event Horizon Press. But he got his start at OC Weekly, and returned to the paper in 2019 as a Staff Writer.