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Governor Hochul opens universal access to birth control in New York

Governor Kathy Hochul signed an order allowing pharmacies in the state to prescribe universal contraception. At left is the state's Health Commissioner, Dr. James McDonald.
Karen DeWitt
Governor Kathy Hochul signed an order allowing pharmacies in the state to prescribe universal contraception. At left is the state's Health Commissioner, Dr. James McDonald.

Governor Kathy Hochul signed a standing order Tuesday that will allow all pharmacies in New York to dispense birth control medications to anyone who wants one.

Governor Hochul says it’s another step to protect women’s reproductive rights after the U.S. Supreme Court's Dobbs decision in 2022 that struck down the landmark abortion rights decision Roe v. Wade. Hochul says Dobbs emboldened some on the political right to try to limit medication abortions, and in vitro fertilization.

While birth control medicines remain legal in the U.S., some states are placing restrictions on obtaining the pills or contraceptive devices. The governor says in New York, there will be full access.

“Starting today, pharmacies are now allowed to dispense three different types of contraception medication. And any woman can walk into a participating pharmacy, and choose the best birth control method that best suits her needs,” Hochul said. “This will dramatically, dramatically increase access to this for women, particularly at a time when women are feeling discouraged, and not listened to, and powerless.”

State Health Commissioner Jim McDonald says three methods of contraception will be available: the oral hormonal pill, conventionally known as the birth control pill, a hormonal vaginal ring, and a hormonal contraceptive patch.

McDonald says the order signed by the governor essentially gives the health commissioner the power to issue one prescription that can be accessed by anyone.

“Basically, what we've done today, by me signing this order, is if you come to New York, and you want to have contraception, I've issued a prescription for you,” McDonald said. “For this role, I become your doctor as the state's physician.”

He says the pharmacists will do a risk assessment to help the person decide which method is best for them. All the prescriptions will be covered by insurance.

People from other states can get the birth control medicines and devices, too, as long as they are physically in a pharmacy in New York, McDonald says.

“The way it works, if you're out of state, is you walk into a New York State pharmacy, show them your insurance card, and just say to the pharmacist, ‘hey, I'm here to see what I can do, as far as getting contraception’,” McDonald said. “ You're welcome like everyone else.”

He says everyone who asks can get a year’s worth of the medication.

The law was supposed to go into effect in January, but Hochul says the state Education Department needed more time to finalize regulations, and they completed those only a few days ago.

The major chain pharmacies and many independent drugstores are expected to participate.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment and interviews newsmakers. Karen previously worked for WINS Radio, New York, and has written for numerous publications, including Adirondack Life and the Albany newsweekly Metroland.