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May 24, 2024

No-prescription birth control comes to N.J., but few pharmacists have qualified to offer it

A law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy nearly 18 months ago is now in effect. But it's not clear women where can go to take advantage of it.

Women's Health Birth Control
N.J. Birth Control Erin Woodiel/Argus Leader; USA TODAY NETWORK

A long-awaited, New Jersey law allowing people to obtain birth control without a prescription went into effect Monday. Qualified pharmacists can dispense contraception without a prescription, but few have completed the state training to do so.

New Jersey announced that a long-awaited law allowing people to obtain birth control without a prescription went into effect Monday.

As for where women will need to go to take advantage of the law, that's unknown. Gov. Phil Murphy's administration said it does not have a list of participating pharmacies, and only five pharmacists have certified that they have taken the necessary training.

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In a statement, Murphy called the move "an important step forward in our efforts to expand access to reproductive health care." Since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2022 struck down the federal right to abortion, Democrats like Murphy have taken steps to codify abortion rights at the state level and enact other protections for women's reproductive rights.

"As we witness an attack on reproductive freedom across the country, New Jersey will continue to be a safe haven for women to access the care they need," Murphy said.

Murphy signed the law allowing qualified pharmacists to dispense self-administered contraceptives like birth control pills, rings, or patches without a prescription in January 2023. It was set to take effect in May, but the state Board of Medical Examiners and the state Board of Pharmacy had to finalize rules before over-the-counter sales could start, leading to the slow implementation of the law.

Now that those rules and protocols are adopted, authorized pharmacists can dole out those products without a prescription. Pharmacists had to complete the state-approved training program, and participation was optional.

New Jersey joins at least 29 other states that allow pharmacists to dispense certain contraceptives without a prescription, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Pharmacy giant CVS applauded the state's move in a statement and said it looks forward to bringing this service to the state. CVS says it already provides Opill, an FDA-approved contraceptive that consumers can purchase without a prescription. Opill contains only one hormone, progestin, compared to more common types of contraceptives that include estrogen and progestin.

A Walgreens spokeswoman said the company is still determining its next steps.

The state Division of Consumer Affairs said it would share a list of participating pharmacy locations "once available."

Since the Supreme Court's 2022 decision overturning Roe, New Jersey officials have taken numerous steps to protect reproductive rights: requiring health insurers to cover contraceptives for 12 months instead of six, mandating insurance coverage for abortion services, increasing funding for family planning services and abortion clinic security, allowing midwives to perform abortions, and launching a "strike force" to ensure compliance with patient confidentiality restrictions.

New Jersey Monitor is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Jersey Monitor maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Terrence T. McDonald for questions: Follow New Jersey Monitor on Facebook and Twitter.

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