The 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!