Women use birth control for decades of their lives, but missing even one or two doses can cause an unintended pregnancy, with all the life-changing consequences that entails. A proposal before the Legislature would remove a significant barrier to accessing contraception, and legislators who are committed to the interests of Maine families should support it.

L.D. 1237, sponsored by Rep. Joyce McCreight, D-Harpswell, would allow women who are prescribed birth control to receive up to a 12-month supply with one visit to a pharmacy. Currently, patients have to go back every one to three months for refills.

If that requirement doesn’t strike you as such a big deal, then you’re out of touch with the reality of a lot of women. Inconsistent use of birth control accounts for 41 percent of unintended pregnancies, and University of California at San Francisco researchers found in 2011 that one in four women has missed a day’s dose of contraception because she wasn’t able to get a new pack in time.

Among the reasons for the gap: Women are juggling multiple responsibilities – work, school, raising a family. They’re holding down hourly jobs and can’t afford to take the time to get to the drugstore before it closes. They don’t have reliable transportation – a huge barrier in rural states like Maine.

Women in abusive relationships face challenges of their own in accessing birth control. Bent on maintaining control of his wife or girlfriend, an abuser will throw away mail-ordered medication or obsessively monitor even local trips, making it tough for his partner to get to the pharmacy regularly for refills, Regina Rooney of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence told legislators at Tuesday’s public hearing.

Several other states, including Oregon and California, already have laws in place allowing yearlong contraception prescriptions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention backs this approach, too – because it works.

Compared to women who received only a 30- or 90-day supply of birth control, women who received a year’s supply were 30 percent less likely to get pregnant unexpectedly and 46 percent less likely to get an abortion, according to the 2011 UCSF study. With fewer unintended pregnancies, employer-sponsored insurance plans won’t be spending as much on covering prenatal care, labor and delivery.

L.D. 1237 will go a long way toward enabling responsible family planning, and for that reason, it deserves legislative approval. Though hormonal birth control is safe and effective, it won’t benefit women unless they have it when they need it.

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