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Indiana lawmakers look to broaden birth control access

Indiana Democrat Sen. Shelli Yoder on Feb. 7, 2023, speaks before legislators at the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis vote on her bill that would allow Medicaid recipients same-day access to long-acting reversible contraceptives. The bill passed the Senate 49-0. (AP Photo/Arleigh Rodgers)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana lawmakers this session are eyeing ways to expand contraceptive access to prevent unintended pregnancies in the state after the Republican-led Legislature pushed through an abortion ban this past summer.

A House committee on Tuesday considered a proposal that could permit pharmacists to prescribe birth control hours before state Senators approved a bill that would allow Medicaid recipients same-day access to long-acting reversible contraceptives.

But while Indiana’s abortion ban is on hold pending a decision from the state Supreme Court, lawmakers are looking to bolster services that would prevent those pregnancies in the first place.

The House legislation regarding over-the-counter birth control was developed “after our special session last year,” bill author Republican Rep. Elizabeth Rowray said in Tuesday’s committee hearing.

All women co-authors on the bill — which allows pharmacists to opt out of authorizing the medication if they object on religious or ethical grounds — are Republican Reps. Sharon Negele and Ann Vermilion and Democratic Rep. Rita Fleming.

“We thought that having access to hormonal contraceptives as readily available as possible would be one step in making sure we didn’t have those unintended pregnancies,” Rowray said Tuesday.

An amendment that would have allowed over-the-counter birth control fell short by one vote this summer. Fleming tried to grant that access through a spending bill — which will allocate additional funding this year to state agencies that support low-income women and children — that passed alongside the abortion ban.

Sen. Shelli Yoder, who authored the Senate bill that passed 49-0, said Tuesday the proposal would allow long-acting reversible contraceptives, such as intrauterine devices, to be transferred between Medicaid patients.

If a Medicaid patient does not return after 12 weeks for the device they requested, a medical provider can reissue that contraceptive to a different patient. This could happen during a day-of appointment, rather than the usual follow-up visit. Providers do not typically keep the implant devices on the shelf due to their high costs — up to $1,000 per device, Yoder said.

Yoder was joined on the bill by Sen. Sue Glick, who sponsored the abortion ban bill last year.

A Senate public health committee is also scheduled Wednesday to hear a bill that would give women the option of having a long-acting reversible contraceptive device implanted after giving birth.

“This is a win-win for Hoosiers because it saves money for our health care providers, and it’s a convenience for our Medicaid recipients,” Yoder said Tuesday. “This bill would help provide vital access to reproductive health care and family planning options to Hoosiers while increasing accessibility with a potential savings for Indiana.”

Republican committee chair Rep. Brad Barrett said the House committee would return next week to hear additional testimony and discuss changes to the existing version of its birth control bill.

Indiana Right to Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion organization, said it opposed the bill until the legislation specified birth control could not be “used as an abortifacient,” lobbyist Jodi Smith said Tuesday.

“Additionally, there are not the proper safeguards in place to ensure that a pharmacist who may abuse this new authority are held accountable for their actions, as physicians are,” Smith said.

Proponents of the bill are aiming to include changes so pharmacists could bill health insurance companies for medical assessments they do before prescribing the birth control. Some also hope to broaden the type of birth control that could be prescribed at a pharmacy to incorporate long-acting reversible contraceptives.

“Pharmacists just serve as another access point for patients,” said Dr. Veronica Vernon, who on Tuesday testified for the Indiana Pharmacy Association, told The Associated Press. “I think it’s incredibly important, especially given some of the other legislation that’s passed in the last year from the state.”

Arleigh Rodgers is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.