Poll finds Missourians want better access to birth control. Bipartisan bill could grant it

Legislation that would allow women to pick up annual supplies of birth control won bipartisan support this year in the Missouri House

Missourians overwhelmingly support access to contraceptives, but some fear their lawmakers could pass laws limiting that availability, a new poll shows.

The survey, released Thursday by The Right Time, a family planning initiative through the Missouri Family Health Council Inc., polled 1,000 Missourians between the ages of 18 and 35, split almost evenly between Democrats, Republicans and Independents.

Michelle Trupiano, executive director of the Missouri Family Health Council, said the poll confirmed what she already believed to be true: birth control is not controversial among Missourians.

"During a time when many issues divide people in our state," she said. "Birth control enjoys near universal support."

Many of those polled expressed concern that their lawmakers felt differently. About half the Republican respondents, 84 percent of the Democratic respondents and 61 percent of the independent respondents said they are very or somewhat concerned the legislature will push laws restricting birth control.

"We can't take anything for granted in terms of what our freedoms and ability to access healthcare looks like," Trupiano said. "Those that fought to undermine Roe v. Wade are also fighting to limit access to birth control, so yes, very understandable why people are worried."

The respondents also pointed to both cost and insurance as their biggest barriers to accessing contraceptives. Asked if pharmacists should be allowed to prescribe an annual supply of birth control, 77 percent said yes.

"Picking up your prescription every one month to three months at your pharmacist is an onerous to-do for the busy lives that people live today," said Mandy Hagseth, the council's director of policy and external affairs.

Hagseth said in talking with women and providers across Missouri, access to clinics, lack of consistent transportation and balancing work and children is often a barrier to picking up their contraception consistently, which can create gaps in use and increase the chances of an unintended pregnancy. Nearly all abortions are illegal in Missouri.

A bill worked on by the council and the National Council of Jewish Women St. Louis would alleviate some of that burden, allowing women to fill an annual birth control prescription at a pharmacy once a year if they prefer.

They started pitching the legislation, which already exists in 25 states, including Texas, in 2019, Hagseth said.

This year, she said, it was finally prioritized by both Democrats and Republicans, including state Rep. Tara Peters, a Republican from Rolla.

The legislation is now included in a larger bill sponsored by Peters along with a smattering of other health care provisions.

"Women have to have access to birth control," Peters said.

Peters, who opposes abortion, said she assumed every lawmaker would be on board. She says she quickly learned that wasn't the case, as some Republican colleagues expressed concerns that the legislation was about abortifacients.

It is not.

"You've got so many facets of people that believe certain things, so it's very hard to convince this side that this is something that's important," Peters said Thursday. "It's kind of been a frustrating process, I'm not going to lie about that."

But largely, the birth-control legislation has had bipartisan support, with both Democratic and Republican co-sponsors in the House and Senate.

Peters, who hopes to bring her bill to the House floor in early April, said this legislation in particular could make the lives of women in her rural district easier.

According to data compiled by Power to Decide, more than 373,000 Missouri women live in contraceptive deserts, which they define as a place where there's not reasonable access to a full range of contraceptive methods. Most are in rural counties.

Peters said the moment is ripe. It's an election year, polling shows Missourians are supportive of increased birth control access and an effort to legalize abortion may end up on the ballot.

"There's not a better time than now to make it count," she said. "That we're making an effort to show that women's contraceptives is important."

The Missouri Independent, www.missouriindependent.com, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization covering state government and its impact on Missourians.

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