We Must Expand Access to Contraception for Women Across Our Commonwealth

As governor, I’ll push for a law allowing pharmacists and some nurses to prescribe birth control.

Ending gender inequality requires removing all barriers constructed to limit women’s autonomy. Some of the most persistent obstacles to reproductive justice are restrictions on women’s access to contraception and abortion services.

During the first legislative session of my governorship, I will call for a bill allowing Virginia’s pharmacists and some nurses to prescribe and dispense birth control. Virginia’s regulations with regard to contraception prescribing and dispensing authority are convoluted and overly restrictive. We need to simplify and expand contraception access at pharmacies and women’s health clinics. It’s common sense that a woman should be able to walk into her local pharmacy or women’s health clinic and walk out with contraception.

Seven states and the District of Columbia have already passed laws expanding contraception prescribing abilities to pharmacists. Removing the requirement that women obtain birth control prescriptions from a doctor will reduce barriers, costs, and inconveniences associated with routine contraception access. Birth control is very safe for the vast majority of women, these medical professionals are highly educated and qualified, and participating prescribers would first go through additional training where appropriate.

All prescribers would still administer a blood pressure test and run the routine health checks that accompany issuing a birth control prescription, and they would still provide information about the range of birth control options available and the health care services women should seek at a health center.

Plan B is currently and properly available without a prescription. Providing contraception after a prescription is written by a pharmacist or nurse who has completed necessary training to prescribe contraception is a common sense measure that will provide safe access to preventive reproductive health care.

Governor McAuliffe’s administration has made huge strides in improving access to affordable and convenient contraception for Virginia women: just this year, he signed a bill mandating that insurance providers cover 12-month supplies of birth control. Combined with a dedicated effort to expand Medicaid and to ensure that all insurance plans offer birth control options with no copay, I believe that Virginia can become more of a leader in knocking down contraception access barriers.

In addition to ensuring that women’s health clinics have the funding they need to provide essential services like pap smears, mammograms, and the full range of contraception options (including long-acting), expanding the range of authorized birth control prescribers is a common sense step in the right direction. Significantly, this expansion will break down walls to reproductive justice for women across our Commonwealth but particularly for those living in rural and underserved areas currently facing a shortage of doctors. We must act to ensure that contraception access is meaningful no matter your zip code.

The Trump Administration’s assault on health care threatens the coverage of 24 million Americans. One of the most destructive elements of the American Health Care Act of 2017 (AHCA) — the passage of which we must continue to resist as it is considered in the U.S. Senate — is its removal of the requirement that insurers in the Marketplace cover the 10 essential benefits guaranteed under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including contraception coverage.

We must act to ensure that contraception access is meaningful no matter your zip code.

In Congress, I voted to pass the ACA and fought to ensure that pre- and postnatal care were included in the essential benefits insurers must cover in the health care Marketplace. As governor, I will push hard to expand Medicaid in Virginia and will require that every insurance provider in our Marketplace maintains complete coverage for preexisting conditions and all 10 of the essential benefits under the ACA — including contraception coverage and maternal care.

In my plan to stand with Virginia’s women, I’ve laid out the steps I’ll take to address systemic gender inequality in our tax code, our employment practices, and our laws. Reproductive justice is an essential element of leveling the playing field for women in a society where subjugation has been the status quo for centuries. It’s past time to break down outdated, moralistic barriers to gender equality and trust women to make their own health choices with autonomy, affordability, access, and dignity.