The new year brings with it smarter birth control for Californians.

As of Jan. 1, it is legal for every woman in the state to purchase the morning-after pill over the counter at her local pharmacy. The so-called “morning-after pill” is not a new pill and is not an abortion-inducing medication. Unlike RU-486, it is a contraceptive.

The morning-after pill is a concentrated dose of the same hormones used in existing birth control pills: estrogen and progestin (sometimes only progestin). The hormones in the morning-after pill either prevent fertilization of an egg or prevent fertilized eggs from attaching to the uterine lining. Although it’s not a healthy method of regular birth control, the technology is proven and safe, with no common side effects more severe than nausea.

The beauty of California’s new law is that women no longer have to go to their doctors or Planned Parenthood for the morning-after pill – they need only go to the pharmacy. In far too many towns, pro-life activists stigmatize women who go to birth control clinics. In some towns, women have to wade through crowds of protesters to get the morning-after pill. In other towns, there are no Planned Parenthood clinics. This is where women will benefit most from the new law. Not just adult women, either.

Teenage girls will be more likely to seek emergency contraception under the new law. More than anyone else, teenagers are afraid of birth control and of being found out by their parents. Now they, and everyone else, can discreetly purchase most contraceptives from their local druggist.

The morning-after pill is, at $20 to $40 per dose, unlikely to replace traditional contraceptives, but condoms break and rapes happen. It’s all the better that emergency contraceptives are available alongside prophylactics. Or at least they will be.

Drug companies have not manufactured enough pills to make them available to all of California’s pharmacies. The morning-after pill is not yet for sale at the local Rite-Aid.

For at least the next few months, you still have to go to Planned Parenthood if you want the morning-after pill. If you need the morning-after pill, contact Planned Parenthood at 963-5801, or stop by the clinic located at 518 Garden St. in Santa Barbara; it’s open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Happy new year.