Gov. Whitmer expands access to contraceptives


GVL / Josh Alburtus

Michaela Triemstra, Staff Writer

On Sept. 19 Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced an expansion of access to birth control to allow pharmacists to prescribe birth control to those who need it – including those at Grand Valley State University.

According to a press release from Governor Whitmer’s office, the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) approved the action to remove what the state believed to be unnecessary barriers in obtaining one’s birth control prescriptions.

The move has since been heralded by advocates in the state who say it will allow more freedom in planning families and individuals’ futures.

“Governor Whitmer is a champion for reproductive health and rights,” said Director of Communications of the Planned Parenthood of Michigan Ashlea Phenicie. “This action is part of her holistic approach to protecting and expanding access to all reproductive health services. When Michiganders can access the high-quality health care they deserve, they are better able to build the lives and futures they want for themselves.”

Students at Grand Valley State University are no exception to this struggle and some have reported difficulty in obtaining birth control for various reasons.

Donna DeMann, a nurse practitioner at the GVSU Family Health Center, sees potential benefits for the GVSU community in the move.

“The expansion may allow GVSU students whose healthcare providers are in their hometowns to access birth control more easily,” said DeMann.

Some GVSU students live hours away from the university, so it is not always feasible to travel to their healthcare providers in order to obtain or refill their birth control prescriptions.

GVSU’s Interim Assistant Vice President of Social Justice Centers, Jessica Jennrich, said with this expansion of access students will have many different places outside of a physician’s office to access birth control.

There have been some hesitations when prescribing birth control because pharmacists may not be aware of what is going on in the patient’s life or what kind of birth control would work best for them. They do not complete a full screening, like a physician would, to know their background or living situation.

Although, while many believe that this expansion is a good thing, it has also raised some concerns.

“Concerns do arise if pharmacists neglect to screen patients for contraindications to each method of birth control,” Clay Reeves and Jerrica Kallio, both nurse practitioners at GVSU Family Health Center in Grand Rapids, told the Lanthorn in a joint statement. “For instance, many formulations of the pill can increase blood clot risk in smokers and this is worsened when the patients have uncontrolled high blood pressure.”

Multiple factors to consider when prescribing birth control have led to differing opinions about this expansion of access.

“Personally, I don’t feel that pharmacists should be able to prescribe birth control,” DeMann said. “Oral contraception is not without risks and a person should have a full history and physical done before hormones are prescribed. Furthermore, by allowing (oral contraceptive pills) to be given at the pharmacy, patients at risk for sexually transmitted infections, abuse or sex trafficking may not be identified and this can have detrimental effects on women.”

This action has both positive and negative aspects, but others like Reeves and Kallio see opportunity in the state’s move should the right steps be taken.

“As long as evaluation and management of these risks are performed, pharmacist-prescribed contraception has the potential to expand the availability of birth control to those who want it,” Reeves and Kallio said.

Some experts believe, however, that it may take some time for pharmacists to begin offering this service.

“In theory, it is supposed to increase accessibility, but there has to be some structure put in place,” said pharmacist and Adjunct Biomedical Sciences Professor at GVSU Adedipupo King. “States are here to make this work, but it’s not going to be an immediate change.”

This action will take some time to work smoothly and effectively to produce its intended results. Structures have yet to be put into place to account for the screening patients should go through to prevent any risks or to be aware of potentially dangerous reasons for wanting birth control.

However, officials say this expansion of access has become a stepping stone towards protecting reproductive rights during a time they have been under attack across the nation.

“It’s a good idea, but don’t hold your breath,” King said. “Structures need to be put in place for it to become a reality.”