State Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson (D-Bronx/Westchester) backed an effort today by Senate Minority to force a vote on a measure that would have allowed pharmacists and registered nurses to dispense emergency contraception without requiring a doctor to write a patient specific prescription. The motion was voted down along party lines.
"The truth is there are thousands of unintended pregnancies in New York each year that could be prevented by offering timely access to emergency contraception. Think of the emotional trauma that women and families are forced to face because this legislation is being blocked by Senate Majority," said Senator Hassell-Thompson.
One of the arguments against this bill was the need to wait for the Food and Drug Administration to approve emergency contraception for over the counter use, the Senator said. The FDA’s independent advisory committee voted in 2003 to approve emergency contraception, the so-called "morning after" pill, for over the counter use. After years of debate, however, the FDA decided in late 2005 to indefinitely postpone making a decision.
Recognizing the likelihood of delay, Senate Minority introduced the Unintended Pregnancy Prevention Act in 2002 and fought for its passage. Year after year, Senate Majority blocked the bill, but surprised many analysts and advocates last year by finally allowing the bill to come to a vote. Emergency contraception legislation passed both houses, only to be vetoed by the Governor. None of the Majority Senators who voted for the bill last year supported the motion to bring it to a vote today.
The bill would allow nurses and pharmacists to dispense emergency contraception through non-patient specific orders, authorized by a physician, nurse practitioner or nurse midwife. Women would be given written instructions on using the pills correctly and the importance of receiving follow-up care. The bill further requires that emergency contraception only be dispensed to female patients and only for a single course of treatment, which address directly concerns raised in the Governor’s veto last year.
"Between inaction by the FDA and partisan politics, the reproductive rights of women have been slowly eroding. Now more than ever, the women of New York State need our help. They should not have to wait any longer," Senator Hassell-Thompson said.
According to the Senator, morning after pills have been proven to be highly effective in preventing pregnancy if taken within 72 hours. The bill bypasses the difficulty of getting an appointment and obtaining the necessary prescription, factors that may cause some women to miss this narrow time frame.
"The argument that a woman has ample time to see a doctor and get a prescription is simply not true. This bill expedites the process and allows women the opportunity to obtain the pill in a timely manner and prevent an unwanted pregnancy" said Senator Hassell-Thompson.
A study of emergency contraception in California and Washington State found that 50 percent of the women who obtained the pills without a prescription did so on the weekend or evening. By making emergency contraception available at pharmacies and from nurses without a patient-specific prescription, an estimated 82,000 abortions and almost 40,000 unintended pregnancies could be prevented annually in New York State.
If this legislation were to become law, New York State would join a number of states, including New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Washington State, Alaska, Hawaii, New Mexico and California, that allow pharmacists to dispense emergency contraception without a patient-specific prescription.
The State Assembly passed its version of the Unintended Pregnancy Prevention Act earlier this year.