You will soon be allowed to buy birth-control pills and other hormonal female contraceptives without a prescription in New Jersey under a law Gov. Phil Murphy signed Friday.

Women have long needed a prescription from a doctor to get such birth control at a pharmacy in the state. But measure permits sales over the counter, which supporters say will make it easier to obtain contraceptives and help reduce the risk of unwanted pregnancies and abortions.

“Now in New Jersey, we can proudly say that we have finally freed the pill,” said state Sen. Shirley Turner, D-Mercer, who lobbyied for the legislation since 2015.

Murphy said the law will make the Garden State an even stronger “safe haven” for reproductive rights.

“In New Jersey, we trust every woman to make these decisions for herself — period, full stop,” the Democratic governor said before signing the measure during a ceremony at his office in Trenton.

“This is the right thing to do, especially to those that don’t have the primary care access to get that prescription,” he added.

New Jersey joins 20 other states, as well as Washington, D.C., and 100 countries that allow hormonal birth control without a prescription.

State law requires health insurers to cover a 12-month supply of birth control. Still, officials stress not all women have health care and some don’t have the money to pay for a doctor’s visit for a prescription or the time to do so because of their “busy and hectic lives,“ Turner said.

This law (S275) does not prevent people from using health care to get birth control, but it will expand access by allowing pharmacists in New Jersey to provide “self-administered hormonal contraceptives” without a prescription, following protocols to be set by the state Board of Pharmacy and state Board of Medical Examiners.

That includes oral, transdermal, or vaginal contraceptives, such as pills, vaginal rings, and diaphragms.

The law takes effect May 1. Murphy said it will “take some time to implement” because the pharmacy and medical examiner boards first have to come up with the “rules of the road.”

“We’re gonna push with all due speed and diligence to get those done,” he added. “Women should not have to wait one minute more than necessary.”

This comes as reproductive rights have been a flashpoint in the last year, as the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court voted in June to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 decision that recognized the right to have an abortion across the U.S.

Murphy signed this measure on the one-year anniversary of when he signed a law that preserves the right to obtain an abortion in the state, anticipating the court to overturn Roe.

Officials also noted the signing comes 10 days from the 50th anniversary of the original Roe decision and as several other states have moved to curtail access to abortions and contraceptives.

“I could not be happier because this is the most timely and meaningful time to take this important step to give women greater control over reproductive rights and their lives,” Turner said.

The measure finally passed the Democratic-controlled state Legislature late last year — 29-8 in the Senate and 64-14 in the Assembly — with some support from Republican lawmakers.

Turner said the law will improve the “mental and emotional health and economic stability” of women and their children and provide them will “greater opportunities to continue their education and advancement in the workplace.”

U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-12th District, said the measure would especially help low-income residents and boost racial equality because New Jersey has a troubling maternal mortality rate for people of color.

“Taking off work every month to renew your prescription for birth control, then standing in line at a pharmacy is not feasible for many people who are working two and three jobs,” Watson Coleman said.

Jackie Cornell, executive director of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey, noted that 99% of sexually active women in America will have used birth control, but many “routinely struggle” to get access to it.

“We are so grateful for the protections granted here in New Jersey. Yet we are furious that so many Americans live in places where they are unable to access a full range of reproductive health care services, ” Cornell said. “Today, we celebrate all of the progress we have made in the great Garden State.”

There is no residency requirement to the law. Murphy, considered a potential presidential candidate if President Joe Biden does not seek re-election in 2024, said that means it will benefit not just New Jersey residents but women from out of state as some states have pushed to curtail abortions and access to birth control.

The governor noted these are states that proclaim to be “freedom-loving” — and then quoted a 1987 film.

“To them, I quote that classic movie ‘The Princess Bride’ — “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means,” Murphy said. “Undoing a woman’s right to make the most intimate decisions for herself or blocking a couple from making a decision about whether and when to start a family is the complete opposite of freedom.”

Under the law, pharmacists will have to undergo training based on guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition, those who want to buy contraceptives without a prescription will have to fill out a questionnaire from the state Department of Health identifying risk factors. The patient’s responses will be kept as a medical record.

Asked if the state will provide money to help women afford contraceptions over the counter, Murphy said he’s “open-minded” to it. He noted that would have to come through an appropriation passed by the Legislature.

NJ Advance Media staff writer Susan K. Livio contributed to this report.

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Brent Johnson may be reached at [email protected]. Follow him at @johnsb01.


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