• Wed, Nov 21 2012

Yippee! OB/GYNs Are Cool With Women Getting Birth Control Over The Counter

birth controlThe nation’s largest group of lady doctors, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have announced their support for selling birth control over the counter, like condoms. Their approval was surprising to many, partly because it’s shocking to hear a group of doctors support a measure that might lose them money. After all, if you can get the Pill over the counter, you might not need to visit your OB nearly as often. However, the group of doctors gave some convincing reasons for making birth control more easily accessible.

—Birth control pills are very safe. Blood clots, the main serious side effect, happen very rarely, and are a bigger threat during pregnancy and right after giving birth.

—Women can easily tell if they have risk factors, such as smoking or having a previous clot, and should avoid the pill.

—Other over-the-counter drugs are sold despite rare but serious side effects, such as stomach bleeding from aspirin and liver damage from acetaminophen.

—And there’s no need for a Pap smear or pelvic exam before using birth control pills. But women should be told to continue getting check-ups as needed, or if they’d like to discuss other forms of birth control such as implantable contraceptives that do require a physician’s involvement.

And the honest fact of the matter is that our country seems to need easier access to birth control. In the United States, half of all pregnancies each year are still unintended. That’s a lot of people who weren’t really planning on having a baby, but get pregnant anyways. It’s true, lots of these situations are “happy surprises,” but there are obviously a lot of women who would benefit from being able to walk over to CVS and grab their little pink pack of pills.

While this is great news, we can’t get too excited just yet. Having the doctor’s support doesn’t guarantee that birth control will be available over the counter soon. A drug-maker would have to petition the FDA to approve their specific form of birth control for over-the-counter sale. On Tuesday, the FDA said it would be willing to meet with any interested company to discuss what studies would be necessary to begin the approval process.

There’s one more concern should birth control make the move to non-prescription. New laws have just gone in to place to force insurance companies to cover birth control. If the drug becomes an over-the-counter item, insurance would no longer have to cover the cost. This could raise the price of the drug significantly. In their report, the doctors specified that this cost issue would have to be addressed before over-the-counter sale begins.

The elephant in the room of this whole discussion is the same one that limited the sale of emergency contraception like the morning-after pill. Would over-the-counter birth control be available to teens? The doctors didn’t bring up the issue, but it’s sure to cause a controversy in conservative communities. Personally, I think that non-parent-approved birth control for teens is necessary. Not every teenager is comfortable discussing sex with their parents and I would still rather they be safe.

There’s still a lot of work to be done before we see over-the-counter birth control arriving at a Walgreen’s near you. But this influential group just took us one step closer. Yay for reproductive health!

(Photo: matka_Wariatka/Shutterstock)

Share This Post:
  • Julie

    I have mixed feelings about this. While I do think that it’s great that this country is finally working towards making these kinds of things more accessible, it may not be the greatest thing for me right now. I know, that sounds selfish.. I have health insurance but it’s very limited. I mostly got it so I could add my daughter on with my plan as I didn’t have any insurance before having a baby. It covers doctors visits but my prescription plan is extremely limited. It only covers my birth control and it also covers diabetic supplies- and I’m not diabetic. The only doctor I see regularly (once a month) for pain management doesn’t even take health insurance- he only takes workman’s comp. So, when and if this does all come about, I seriously hope they *will* do something about the cost issue. I take a generic form of my brand of pill and it would still cost me $112 a month for the pack.

    Also, my sister went on the pill at a very young age. She wasn’t sexually active, but she went on the pill to help manage her severe PMS. And it helped. Not all teens go on the pill in the hopes of avoiding pregnancy. Not all women do as a matter of fact. In those kinds of instances I DO still think it would be worth it to see a doctor because they will be able to best assess what kind of pill you should be on. As in, what level of hormones, etc. While it’s true that women will know if they have certain risk factors, every pill is different and I think the doctors would know best when it comes to which one to prescribe. Don’t get me wrong, I think this is a huge step forward. I know you said it’s going to be some time before any of this actually takes place so I really hope they get a lot of the kinks worked out before we get there. If I was told today that I now had to buy my pill over the counter, I wouldn’t be too thrilled.

  • Angela

    Teens can already buy condoms and obtain prescriptions for birth control in most if not all states without parental permission. I see no reason to change that just because the pill is available over the counter. I do feel however that it is just one more compelling reason to ensure that children receive adequate sex ed. I personally knew teens who became pregnant believing that they only needed to take birth control on days they had sex or who would try to make their own morning after pill by taking a whole pack at once. When I first started the pill my Dr did sit me down and explained how to properly take them, what to do if I missed a day, and made sure I knew that condoms were still necessary to prevent STDs. Yes, that info is all on package but I don’t think it’s realistic to expect that everyone will read the package inserts.

    • LindsayCross

      Angela, I think you bring up some really great points! Having birth control available doesn’t mean anyone will automatically understand how to use it. Something like this would definitely make comprehensive sex education even more vital than it already is!

    • lea

      Would it be a viable option to have the pharmacist sit down with the girl or woman and go through everything for the first time she buys them? Rather than have to shell out for a doctor’s visit.
      Here in Aus, the morning after pill is available without prescription (I don’t know what happens for you guys in the US), but you must have an interview with the pharmacist first. There is a form they go through with you and you need to sign it at the end I think (to say you’ve been informed etc).

    • LiteBrite

      I believe the morning-after pill is available OTC in the U.S. (If I’m wrong, someone correct me) to people 17 and older; however, I’m not sure if that applies to each state.

      I’m not against the idea of OTC birth control; however, I have some of the same concerns others do. Birth control isn’t to be taken lightly, and as someone else said, different types affect people differently. Also, I think it’s important that first time users know how to take it properly, and I’m not convinced each pharmacist will be as diligent in their explanations. (For example, there are two main pharmacists at my local Walgreens. One is pretty good at explaining side effects of medications I need to take; the other just asks “Do you have any questions?”)

      Also, something else to think about: there are some states that allow pharmacists to refuse to fill birth control prescriptions based on that pharmacist’s own religious beliefs. (Yeah, you read that right.)

    • lea

      “there are some states that allow pharmacists to refuse to fill birth control prescriptions based on that pharmacist’s own religious beliefs. (Yeah, you read that right.)”
      Wow. I can’t even imagine the shitstorm if someone tried that over here!

    • Kate

      Lea, I am in Australia too and whilst it is not technically legal, some pharmacists do make it very difficult to obtain birth control.

      I work in a very conservative area of Melbourne and I know that I can’t get my B/C script filled on my lunch break, because it will take me the vast majority of my lunch break to get it out of the hands of the pharmacist, and once it was completely the wrong dosage and I do believe that it was intentionally stuffed up. Fortunately I live in an area where it is not an issue and can get it filled without hassle. But it’s certainly not all fine and dandy in all places.

  • Eileen

    Honestly, while this sounds awesomely convenient for those women who do use hormonal birth control, the problem I see is that those people who are mostly likely to buy birth control pills over the counter (young women who are new to birth control) are those people who would most benefit from seeing a doctor first. There are approximately fifty million types of birth control pills, all with varying amounts of progestin and sometimes estrogen. Different pills affect different women, well, differently. Doctors know this and can help their patients accordingly. But think back to the first box of condoms you bought. How much thought did you put into choosing that particular brand and style?

  • C.J.

    I hope if they do this it is at least kept behind the counter so you have to ask the pharmasist for it. I am not against easier access to birth control. I just think it would be difficult for someone, especially a young person, to know which kind would be the best for them. At least if it was behind the counter the pharmasist wold be able to advise people.

  • Scarlette

    Men get their prostates checked at an annual, why can’t women of child bearing age get their uterus checked with a special visit? You generally have to have an annual to participate in school/social activities at a young age anyways, why would it be an issue to advise women on the best progesterone/estrogen intake at that check up?

  • Alexandra

    I wouldn’t be in favor of this, there are dozens of types of birth control pills, each with different hormone concentrations. In addition to this, the estrogen:progesterone ratio differs as well.

    There is no way you can choose the right pill for yourself. My doctor even had trouble figuring out what was going on when I needed to go from alesse to marvelon because my own hormones re-balanced and alesse was no longer strong enough!

    As MC said, certain pills are better suited for women with acne, others are great for mood swings and intense cramps.

    Some women, like my friend, are extremely sensitive to birth control and require a lot of time and effort to find a brand that works.

    Birth control also counteracts with many medicines, including antibiotics. Considering both the pill and antibiotics are prescribed to treat acne, this could be dangerous because the counteraction makes the pill less effective.

    Finally, a lot of women may be tempted to pick a higher dose so “it works better”, which is wrong! A stronger dose can cause really bad side effects for some. The best is to start with the lowest dose possible and go up if that one doesn’t work.

    Basically, I have NO idea what those doctors were thinking…
    Oh, and I live in Canada, where a gynecologist or a doctor can also prescribe the pill (which is great because when my gynecologist was on maternity leave I could still get a new prescription), however, you don’t need a checkup, you just talk to the gyno about your needs, which I find great because most teens don’t use the pill for contraception.

  • Vikky

    Yah! Now insurance companies won’t have to pay for birth control after all! /sarcasm.
    I can’t be the only one who found the timing of this “decision” suspicious!

  • http://twitter.com/AlyHubbell Alyssa Hubbell

    I’m a fan on birth control but not a fan of it being sold over the counter. I’ve personally suffered from depression thanks to a birth control that was wrong for me. I also know someone who had to have her leg amputated because of a blood clot caused by birth control. My gynecologist has me get blood tests to make sure everything is normal because I am on a contraceptive more prone to cause clotting. Therefore, I think doctors are necessary to ensure safety of pill users.

    Furthermore, I don’t think it’s a coincidence this issue is being pushed more now than ever before now that greedy insurance companies are required to cover the cost of birth control. Does anyone else think insurance company lobbyists might just be behind this push?

    I think doctors should be involved in birth control because there are hundreds of different types and hormonal changes can be dangerous. Finally, I think insurance SHOULD be required to cover the cost of it because it isn’t only used to prevent babies. With a family history of hormonal imbalances I understand the desire to have a normal period. I bled for 27 days straight at the age of 14, before I had even had my first kiss. It’s used for health reasons more often than people think.