Back to All Legislation

Legislative Memo: Emergency Contraception – Non-Patient Specific Prescription

This bill would allow licensed physicians, certified nurse practitioners and licensed midwives to write “non-patient specific” prescriptions for emergency contraception (“EC”), which could then be dispensed by licensed pharmacists and registered professional nurses.

Under existing law, a woman who requires EC must make an appointment with or contact her doctor, who must then write her a prescription, which she must then have filled by a pharmacist.

All these steps take precious hours as the drug’s effectiveness wanes. Under the existing prescription procedure, therefore, this highly effective contraceptive is often rendered useless because women may not be able to obtain the drug in a timely manner. There is no medical or public policy justification for maintaining the barriers that impede access to EC.

The NYCLU therefore urges passage of this legislation. Emergency contraceptive pills, which contain high doses of oral contraceptives, are FDA-approved as a safe and effective means of preventing pregnancy following unprotected sex. Emergency contraception pills should not be confused with mifepristone (or “RU-486”), an FDA-approved drug for early abortion.

EC works by preventing ovulation, fertilization, or implantation. It does not disrupt an established pregnancy, which the medical community defines as beginning with implantation. EC has been proven highly effective in preventing unintended pregnancy when taken within seventy-two hours after unprotected intercourse; it is most effective when taken within twelve hours. Timely access is therefore critical.

However, because EC currently may not be dispensed in the United States without a prescription, many women who could benefit from this drug cannot obtain it in time to realize its full efficacy. A woman who is unable to visit her healthcare provider, obtain a prescription, and get it filled within the briefest window of opportunity may well face an unwanted pregnancy.

Women who live in rural areas of the state, where there are fewer health care facilities and providers, are especially likely to face this predicament. Women in any location will likely find that seeking a prescription on a weekend or weekday evening is an exercise in futility.

This proposed legislation (A.888) would reduce the incidence of unwanted pregnancy by affording women the opportunity to obtain EC within the limited time period that the medication can be effective.

The new law would enable women to access EC immediately after unprotected intercourse or a birth control failure by permitting pharmacists and nurses to immediately dispense EC based on non-patient-specific prescriptions. This model of non-patient specific prescription is not new to the health care arena.

New York Education Law § 6537(6) already permits physicians to write such prescriptions so that registered professional nurses are able to administer immunizations and emergency anaphylaxis treatment.

California and Washington have adopted similar models for the dispensing of EC by pharmacists. EC is an appropriate medication for a non-patient specific prescription model because (1) it is safe and effective; (2) it has few side effects; and (3) directions for the use of EC are so simple that physician oversight is not needed.

Research suggests that if EC were more easily available in the United States, it would be possible to prevent nearly half of all unintended pregnancies, a number estimated to be as high as 2.5 million each year. This legislation would significantly improve timely access to emergency contraception and could therefore significantly decrease the number of unintended pregnancies in New York State. New York law should not create unnecessary barriers that limit women’s access to basic reproductive healthcare.

A.888 removes such a barrier; and for this reason the NYCLU urges legislators to vote in support of this bill.

As bold as the spirit of New York, we are the NYCLU.
© 2024 New York
Civil Liberties Union