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    Wednesday, June 19, 2024

    Women’s health is not a partisan issue; it’s a moral issue

    Five months ago, Janet Mattiucci, a Groton CVS pharmacy manager, said something publicly that put a bright spotlight on the challenges Connecticut women face in accessing birth control.

    “People come up to this (pharmacy) consultation window,” Mattiucci said, “and they just pour their hearts out because they feel like it’s a safe place here.”

    That was the same day Sen. Ryan Fazio (R-Greenwich) and I unveiled our solution to those challenges.

    Our idea? Focus on that safe, trusted, familiar place that Mattiucci described.

    The pharmacy.

    And, more specifically, the pharmacists.

    Sen. Fazio and I proposed changing state law to enable trained Connecticut pharmacists to prescribe and dispense birth control. We laid out multiple reasons for our legislative proposal:

    1. More than 30 other states have passed similar laws on a bipartisan basis and the reception has been universally positive

    2. Expanding access to reproductive health care gives women more options, reduces costs, and improves health outcomes

    3. We have a shortage of medical professionals in our workforce, and we must make sure we are efficiently utilizing skilled professionals to help render health care

    4. Many women don’t have convenient access to primary care physicians and live in reproductive health care ‘deserts’

    5. Access to birth control really is a fundamental right of women, and if we want to prevent abortions, we need increased access.

    Sen. Fazio and I noted that we are not trying to take away OBGYN jobs or reduce gynecological visits. To the contrary: we encourage people to see their doctor. Our legislation, which is supported by the medical community, is really for the person who doesn’t have access to the doctor, doesn’t have an appointment and wants to prevent a pregnancy.

    We also recognized how pharmacists are highly trained and trusted health professionals who possess specialized knowledge and expertise in medication management. Pharmacists are committed to helping people find health care solutions that work for them. They also are often available outside of the traditional healthcare hours, and in some cases are available 24/7, which increases access for women.

    Fast forward to today: Pharmacists are now able to prescribe birth control, as long as they have completed an accredited education training program for prescribing hormonal contraceptives and emergency contraception. The governor signed the bill on June 13. It’s the law.

    In my role as Ranking Senator on the legislature's Public Health Committee and as a lawmaker who represents several rural eastern Connecticut towns, I could not be more pleased by our bill’s passage. We have removed a barrier to accessing healthcare. Our focus on that “safe place” Janet Mattiucci described so well has resulted in a policy change that will change lives for the better.

    It is critical that contraceptives are readily accessible to women without any unnecessary hurdles or obstacles, and this new law addresses that need. Closing the gap in areas of contraception deserts in our state will be an ongoing effort, but this is a step in the right direction. As a bonus, Connecticut now will have a new health care resource in the form of local pharmacists. Their already essential health care role has been enhanced with respect to women’s access to medical care.

    As Republicans, we welcomed the opportunity to lead this debate and guide the bill through the legislative process. We believe women's health is not a partisan issue; it's a moral issue. There are many legislators of both parties to thank, as well as the Lamont administration, which has publicly supported this proposal from its inception.

    Then, on July 13, the positive news continued. The Food and Drug Administration approved a birth control pill to be sold without a prescription for the first time in the United States, a milestone that could significantly expand access to contraception. The medication, called Opill, will become the most effective birth control method available over the counter.

    As we spread the word about our new common sense state law, let us remember that providing women more choice over their health care decisions along with better access is common sense policymaking.

    So congratulations, Connecticut, and well done, FDA. Let’s keep this bipartisan momentum going. Let’s keep pushing for increased accessibility to health care for women.

    Sen. Heather Somers represents the 18th Senate District and lives in Mystic.

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