ANNAPOLIS – Maryland lawmakers announced legislation Wednesday that would allow women to get emergency contraceptive pills – commonly known as morning after pills – from a pharmacy without getting a prescription.
“The women in this state need access to quality health care and that access includes access to emergency contraception,” Senator Sharon M. Grosfeld, D-Montgomery, the bill’s sponsor said at a press conference here.
Under current Maryland law, a woman must have a prescription to receive Plan B, the commercial name of the contraceptive medication. The propose legislation would remove that restriction so that specially trained pharmacists could dispense Plan B to women without a prescription. Pharmacists could choose to become certified through a state-run program.
Eight states currently allow pharmacists to dispense Plan B without a prescription.
Supporters of the legislation argue that visiting a doctor to get a prescription takes too long, because Plan B must be taken within 72 hours after intercourse. They say this puts an unnecessary barrier between the emergency contraception and the women who need it and that victims of rape and incest are less likely to get the medicine if they have to see a doctor.
Supporters of the bill say that Plan B is not an abortion pill, and in fact will do nothing to stop a pregnancy after conception. It is rather, they say, a contraceptive which will prevent pregnancy.
The bill was unveiled at a press conference and was scheduled for a hearing Wednesday evening.
Mila Pender, a student at the University of Maryland who spoke at the press conference in favor of the bill, said students can get the medication at the university health clinic on the College Park campus. But she said the clinic is closed on Sunday, the time when female students are most likely to need it.
“Typically as a college student you go out on Friday and Saturday night, “she said in an interview after the press conference. “If you’re going to need it you would need it on Sunday.”
She also said that even if students had access to a doctor, many are strapped for money and would be unable to pay to see a doctor.
But opponents of the bill argue that the doctor plays an important role in prescribing the medication to women and that the legislation would cut out the expertise of a doctor in providing health care. They are also concerned that the law would allow teenagers to take the medication without their parents knowing.
“I think a lot of parents would be really floored that their teenage daughters could get emergency contraception without them knowing,” said Julie Varner, the assistant director of social concerns for the Maryland Catholic Conference.
Plan B is the brand name of the only commercially available form of the drug progestin levonorgestrel, which comes in pill form. It is often called the “morning after pill,” which causes it to be confused with RU486, a pill that induces a medical abortion after a pregnancy has already begun.
Supporters of the legislation emphasized that the two medications are different. “It has absolutely nothing to do with the abortion drug RU486,” Grosfeld said.