Fate of governor’s birth control access plan to be decided in Iowa House

DES MOINES — One of Governor Kim Reynolds’ top policy priorities faces an important legislative deadline this week.

A bill that would let women who are at least 18 get some forms of birth control from a pharmacist without first going to a doctor has to clear a committee in the Iowa House by this Friday or it’s ineligible for further debate. House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, a Republican from Clear Lake who is a nurse, said she and her fellow Republicans in the House haven’t decided how to proceed.

“The (House Republican) Caucus is kind of all over the map on this topic,” Upmeyer told reporters. “For myself, I really want to look at that bill closely. As a health care provider, it’s genuinely a medication and many medications are quite safe, but we don’t just sort of set them on the shelf and let people buy them.”

Upmeyer said she’s concerned women will skip periodic wellness visits to their doctor if they don’t need a doctor’s prescription for birth control.

“I sure don’t want this to be an excuse or a reason that women use, ‘I can pick up my birth control pills at the pharmacy. I don’t need to go in for a wellness check,’ so now we’re not screening for breast cancer, cervical cancer, even domestic violence,” Upmeyer said. “All those things are part of that visit when you go in for wellness.”

Upmeyer said a few months ago that there are health-related reasons a doctor prescribes different kinds of pills to different patients.

“I also understand that women are busy. I appreciate that,” Upmeyer said Thursday, “but there are walking clinics around many communities.”

Last week, the Iowa Senate voted to let adult women buy birth control at the pharmacy counter, after answering a series of health-screening questions. The bill passed on a 42-to-6 vote.