There’s a new way for South Carolina’s women to get access to birth control. In November, the S.C. Board of Medical Examiners and S.C. Board of Pharmacy issued a protocol that outlines how pharmacists have new powers to dispense some forms of hormonal contraceptives.

Until Nov. 16, women have had to go to their doctor annually to get prescriptions for contraceptives. But with these new rules in place, pharmacists can dispense contraceptives without the annual visit. Note, however, that the new protocol requires anyone not on birth control to get an initial doctor’s check-up and prescription before any dispensing is done by pharmacists. But after that, they can bypass the doctor’s office.

Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed the Pharmacy Access Act, which authorized pharmacies that meet the boards’ requirements to administer injectable contraceptives or dispense self-administered hormonal contraceptives, such as birth control pills. Gov. Henry McMaster signed the bill into law May 23. Since then, the agencies have been working out the methods that pharmacies can use to provide the contraceptives to the public.

“Once the requirements as set forth in the protocols are met, pharmacists can dispense,” said Holly Beeson, counsel to the office of communications and governmental affairs at the S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (LLR).

“It is important to note that in South Carolina, pharmacists may dispense or administer these contraceptives via protocol. This is not the same language as other states, which specify pharmacists can ‘prescribe,’ as South Carolina requires each participating pharmacy to have a standing order from a licensed prescriber,” Beeson said.

The law required the agency to issue new rules by Nov. 23. Guidelines were approved and added to the LLR website Nov. 16, Beeson said, but as of Nov. 29, no formal notification has been sent to pharmacies announcing the release of this information. LLR anticipates guidelines will be sent to pharmacies along with FAQs by the end of this week, Beeson told the City Paper Tuesday. 

Big win for women

“Giving women easier access to birth control is a long-term collective goal of so many groups. This is a great step forward,” said Vicki Ringer, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic. “We know that birth control is safe and effective … so safe, in fact, that contraceptives are sold off the shelf at stores in 120 industrialized countries.”

Participation in the newly-authorized option by pharmacies in South Carolina is voluntary, which means not all pharmacies will offer the service. Check with your local pharmacy to learn more. 

Nevertheless, advocates like Ringer say the new law will expand birth control access, particularly in rural areas, where pharmacies may be more easily accessible than doctors’ offices. This law also eliminates the need for an annual doctor’s visit before receiving a prescription, which saves women time and money. Medical professionals, however, highly recommend that women visit their doctor sometime throughout the year for check-ups and screenings. 

“Allowing women to obtain birth control without a doctor’s visit and a patient-specific prescription will mean a cost savings for so many women, especially those who are uninsured. For everyone, this is a time saver,” Ringer said.

“We know that many unplanned pregnancies occur between birth control refills. Eliminating that time lapse while women may be waiting for a doctor’s appointment should reduce the number of missed birth control doses and, therefore, reduce unplanned pregnancies.”

The guidelines state that participating pharmacies may not dispense or administer contraceptives 24 months after the initial prescription without verification that the individual has visited a medical practitioner within that time frame.

Each person seeking contraceptives through a participating pharmacy is required to fill out a self-screening risk assessment questionnaire to help pharmacists determine whether it is safe to provide birth control. Returning patients are given the same screening questions every 12 months. 

“As more women become aware and comfortable with this new program, we expect it to have positive measurable results,” Ringer said. “When we are able to plan if and when to become parents, an improved quality of life exists for everyone.”

View the protocols and screening test at

Stay cool. Support City Paper.

City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.