COLUMBIA — A few weeks after passing a near-total abortion ban, some South Carolina lawmakers are pushing to expand access to birth control, proposing legislation that would allow women to get it without a prescription.
State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, said he decided to introduce the bill after learning about how women in rural communities have difficulty either accessing a physician or paying for a physician to get a prescription.
"If we want to avoid unwanted pregnancies, if we want to go ahead and curtail abortions, which is good public policy, then consistent with that desire is making contraceptives more readily available, breaking down barriers to access and making them more readily accessible to women," Davis said.
The Medical Affairs Committee approved the bill on March 4, potentially setting it up for a debate on the Senate floor soon.
If passed, the bill would add South Carolina to 13 states that already allow pharmacists to give contraception to women without patient-specific prescriptions. Currently in South Carolina only condoms and emergency contraception — known as "morning-after pills" or "Plan B" — are available without a prescription.
"In looking at the 13 states that have done something like this, it's very clear that the expanded access to birth control and removing those barriers has been overwhelmingly successful," Davis said.
The bill, S.628, would direct the state boards of medical examiners and pharmacists to develop a protocol for pharmacies to follow in order to either dispense self-administered contraception such as birth control pills or to administer injectable versions.
The protocol would need to follow a few minimum requirements, such as providing training to pharmacists who give out the contraception and giving information to the women who ask for it. But it would leave the details up to those boards to figure out.
"I didn't want to be too specific in this bill as to what that written protocol should be," Davis said. "That's something that's best left by legislators to those professionals."
State Sen. Richard Cash, R-Anderson, sought to amend the bill to make clear that pharmacies can opt out of offering contraception for patients without a prescription, a change that Davis said he would be amenable to during the Senate floor debate.
The measure comes just a few weeks after the Legislature passed a bill to ban most abortions in the state, attempting to block any abortions after around six to eight weeks of pregnancy.
A federal judge swiftly halted that measure after Gov. Henry McMaster signed it, ruling that it is likely to be found unconstitutional due to Supreme Court precedent that women have a right to abortion access until a fetus is viable outside of the womb.
A more extensive court hearing on that abortion ban is scheduled for March 8.