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Indiana governor signs bill easing birth control access

A one-month dosage of hormonal birth control pills is displayed in Sacramento, Calif., Aug. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Women in Indiana will be able to obtain birth control without a doctor’s prescription under a bill signed into law Monday, which grants broader access to contraception months after the Republican-dominated legislature enacted a statewide abortion ban.

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb also signed a GOP-backed proposal requiring voters to submit more identification information to obtain mail-in ballots, which was approved during the legislative session that ended last week.

The new birth control law, which takes effect July 1, will allow pharmacists, not just physicians, to prescribe some hormonal contraceptives such as the patch or the pill. Supporters say the measure will offer women quicker access to contraceptives, especially in areas where they struggle to receive primary care. But opposing lawmakers doubted pharmacists could provide the same level of care as physicians.

The governor’s office didn’t release any comment Monday about Holcomb’s decision, but when asked Friday about the birth control bill, he said “more access is typically better, in my mind.”

The law limits birth control prescriptions from pharmacists to no more than six months, and pharmacists cannot prescribe a contraceptive to a woman after 12 months “unless the woman has been seen by a physician, advanced practice registered nurse, or physician assistant” in the past year, the bill states.

Pharmacists also will be allowed to decline to prescribe the medications under “ethical, moral, or religious grounds.”

“It’s important to recognize the necessity of access to safe birth control options for Hoosier women,” bill author Republican state Rep. Elizabeth Rowray said in a Friday statement. “Allowing highly trained, specialized health care professionals like pharmacists to prescribe birth control will go a long way in helping Hoosier women access to this important resource.”

Lawmakers last summer debated a proposal for easier birth control access as Republicans pushed an abortion ban into law. Enforcement of that ban has been blocked while the Indiana Supreme Court weighs arguments that it violates the state constitution.

A vote for such access to birth control from pharmacists failed by one vote last summer, when Democratic Rep. Rita Fleming of Jeffersonville offered an amendment with similar language into a spending bill for low-income women and children that lawmakers advanced alongside the abortion ban.

“This legislation will allow more Hoosier women to control when and if they grow their families and will enhance public health for years to come,” Fleming said in a statement Friday.

The tougher mail-in balloting rules that Holcomb signed into law were approved in near-party line votes as Democrats and voting rights groups argued that the steps will make voting more difficult for many people.

The new law will require Indiana voters submitting a paper application for a mail ballot to include a photocopy of a government-issued identification card or at least two ID numbers, such as their 10-digit driver’s license or the last four digits of their Social Security number.

Bill sponsor Republican Rep. Tim Wesco of Osceola maintained that the tighter rules were aimed at increasing voter confidence in elections by putting identification requirements for mail-in ballots in line with those for in-person voting.

The changes will take effect July 1 and first be required for mail-in ballots cast in the fall’s city and town elections around the state.

Voting rights groups argued that the stricter ID requirements weren’t necessary because confirmed instances of voter fraud are rare in Indiana. They noted that county election workers already must confirm whether a person’s signature on an application matches their voter registration record.

Some who testified before lawmakers in support of the bill argued that the current signature matching process was not stringent enough and that voters were “screaming” for tighter rules around mail voting.

Associated Press writer Tom Davies contributed to this report.