Maryland’s General Assembly has passed a law that will allow pharmacies to sell oral contraceptives – birth control pills – without a physician’s prescription. According to CBS Baltimore, the bill is now headed to Governor Larry Hogan for a final signature, having already passed the State’s Senate.

Maryland Steps Closer To OTC Contraceptive Pills

Sponsored by State Delegate Shelly Hettleman, a Democrat, the new law argues that contemporary birth control pills have become so safe that a doctor’s sign-off is no longer needed. The bill’s proposal was met with a resounding endorsement from Maryland’s House of Delegates, passing in a vote of 112 to 23. Similar measures have already been enacted in Oregon and California, but have failed to make progress on the federal level.

Birth Control Pills

Earlier this year, a group from Johns Hopkins University concluded that, despite the protests of conservative lawmakers, expanding the use of effective contraceptives among young people would reduce unintended pregnancy rates without increasing “sexual risk behaviors.” As lead author Krishna Upadhya MD summed it up: “our review strongly suggests that giving teens easier access to various contraceptives will not lead to more sex but would result in fewer unwanted pregnancies.”

State Leads Nation In Family Planning Expansion

Maryland’s Governor Hogan has not yet said publicly whether or not he supports the proposed measure for over-the-counter contraceptive pills. Assuming Hogan’s support, the law will allow pharmacists to write prescriptions for birth control pills, effectively making the contraceptives available over-the-counter. Hogan is only the second Republican Governor in the State’s history and has supported (or declined to block) a number of major contraceptive initiatives in the past.

In 2016, he signed the Maryland Contraceptive Equity Act into law. The bill eliminated most insurance co-payments for contraceptives and mandated coverage of over-the-counter birth control medications, including the emergency contraceptive Plan B. Maryland’s law “provides the most comprehensive coverage of contraception in the country,” Planned Parenthood reports. Then, in early-April of 2017, Hogan refused to veto a bill that will guarantee funding for Planned Parenthood, even if the federal government pulls its financial support for the non-profit.

The Pill Doesn’t Raise Overall Cancer Risk, Study Finds

Unintended pregnancies among young women have seen rapid declines in recent years, as contraceptive use rates climb. Meanwhile, researchers have also made headway in evaluating the potential long-term health benefits of using contraceptive pills.

At Scotland’s University of Aberdeen, scientists have published the results of a 44-year safety study that followed a group of 46,000 women. Women who took birth control pills were less likely to develop ovarian, endometrial and colorectal cancers.

Cancer Risks Drop, Stay Down For 30 Years

Concerns have been raised that the use of contraceptive pills may increase the likelihood of breast and cervical cancers. The UK group found some evidence to support this claim; current and recent users of a combined-hormone birth control pill appeared more likely to develop the diseases, but this increase in risk disappeared within five years of the women discontinuing their prescriptions. Moreover, these increased risks were balanced by significant reductions in the risk for other forms of cancer:

  • 19% lower risk of colorectal cancers
  • 34% lower risk of endometrial cancers
  • 33% lower risk of ovarian cancers

Taking these preventative effects into account, birth control pills came out neutral, over-all, on the topic of cancer. As lead author Dr. Lisa Iversen told Sky News, “pill users don’t have an overall increased risk of cancer over their lifetime and […] the protective effects [for] some specific cancers last for at least 30 years.”

The study, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, represents the longest-running research on the health effects of oral birth control in world history.