OB/GYNs call for the pill to be available over-the-counter

This could be a game-changer, right? The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has recommended that oral contraceptives should be available without a prescription.

Cost, access, and convenience issues are common reasons why women do not use contraception or use it inconsistently. There are no OCs currently approved for OTC access, but The College believes OTC availability will improve women’s access to and usage of contraception. The benefits of making OCs easily accessible OTC outweigh the risks, says The College.

It’s pretty ridiculous that this hasn’t already happened. Oh wait, I’m sorry–I forgot for a second that a vocal minority lives in an alternate universe where contraception doesn’t prevent unintended pregnancies and is, in fact, murder, or a gate-way drug to abortion, or turning men gay, or something. Really, though–this should be a no-brainer. The pill is safer than plenty of other drugs, like aspirin, that are sold over-the-counter despite a small risk of side effects. And if you’re 17 or older, you can already get emergency contraception–which is just a higher dose of regular birth control–without a prescription.

women fending off stork

Sometimes it really is a hassle to avoid pregnancy.

It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that if I’d been able to get the pill over-the-counter, I probably would never have gotten an abortion. When I got accidentally pregnant, I wasn’t on the pill anymore in part because I’d recently moved and the hassle of getting my prescription transferred just didn’t seem worth it. And if that discouraged me–a very well-informed, privileged lady–imagine how a poor mother working two jobs might feel about making an appointment to see a doctor, taking time off work to go in, and getting the prescription filled. Inconvenience is a real barrier.

But the other reason I–like many of you–stopped taking the pill was the cost. And that’s an issue ACOG warns will need to be addressed if birth control goes OTC. Without a prescription, it wouldn’t be covered under Obamacare’s no-copay contraception mandate and it’s unclear how much it would be.

Nothing’s changing overnight, but here’s hoping someday soon birth control pills are as cheap and accessible as candy!

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

Read more about Maya

Join the Conversation

  • Stella

    I agree with you that the pill should be more easily available, and certainly should not require one to see a trained surgeon – which is at core what OB/GYNs are. We totally overuse OB/GYNs in this country for a host of our reproductive health needs — use them far more than coutries with much more effective healthcare systems — and I support efforts to get their expensive services out of routine, non-surgical matters and focused where they are needed.

    But the pill is not “like candy” and I have to say, I have never known anyone who had a stroke, almost fatal blood clot, or almost fatal tumor in their liver from candy or aspirin. And I have known women who had all these issues from the pill. As a more “senior” member of the female gender than many of the feministing editors, I have seen all these things in my lifetime. Many of these risks increase with age.

    The pill is serious medication. You do not have to be anti-sex or pro-religion to think it is potentially dangerous. Someone who understands pharmaceuticals and their risks, and who is not working for or getting kick-backs from the companies that make the pill — should be involved in the process and explain to women the risks and alternatives to this drug.

    • Smiley

      All medication is potentially dangerous. For example, I have heard that aspirin would probably not be allowed on the market if it sought that right now; there are just too many side effects.

      Are prescriptions renewable? The first one could require a visit, and subsequent ones could be OTC, for maybe a few years, or depending on any risk factors. Someone with no contra-indications could get a prescription valid for 5 years, or more. Others might require a visit once a year.

      I am surprised that it the College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that is suggesting making the pill OTC. Usually, corporations (of all kinds) protect their own. At least it shows that the College is intellectually honest.

      • Tori

        Are prescriptions renewable? The first one could require a visit, and subsequent ones could be OTC, for maybe a few years, or depending on any risk factors.

        I think this depends on the location.

        At the very least, I know that in my state, a prescription must be written by a provider the patient has seen within the last year.

  • Liz Sommers

    Last I looked, health insurance did not cover over the counter drugs. With obamacare coming into play, I think that a good selection of birth control pills should be available by prescription. Otherwise, the inflated price will be again passed on to the woman. Have you looked at the price of claratin lately? Yes, you can get generics cheaper – but I don’t know about generic birth control.

  • Joanna

    George Carlin was saying this 40 years ago. Forty years ago. Ridiculing how women have to bring a “note” like children have to just to get something authorized. According to Carlin, there was no reason for this except to humiliate women and keep them under control of “guys,” especially since in those days almost all doctors were men, and even pervs.

    Birth control pills are still on prescription. You still need a note to get laid. It’s so bad. Not only do you need a note, you gotta go to one guy to get the note, and you gotta bring it to another guy. Everybody’s in on it, y’know. Ladies must feel silly goin’ up.. “Here’s my note. Hmm..” “Oh, that’s what you’re doing at home, eh? Well, uh, we’re keeping a record of it here in the store. Late at night, I read them.”

  • Meghan

    Firstly, as a disclaimer, I’m Canadian. So to be honest I’m not fully aware of the exact costs and barriers facing American women in regards to contraceptive and reproductive healthcare. Secondly, I would like to state that I am a huge huge supporter of women having access to birthcontrol and contraceptives.
    However, I’m not sure how I feel about over-the-counter birthcontrol. The first thing that comes to my mind is the controversy surrounding Yaz and Yazmin and BeYaz for higher then normal risk of blood clot and stroke. On any birth control pill its important girls know what signs to watch for and when to see a doctor. I would honestly be very concerned about bigpharma trying to take advantage of young women who aren’t necessarily medically educated and might not fully understand the risks (any benefits) of oral contraceptives. I also think there is something to be said about talking to a medical professional about the right kind of contraceptive for each individual person depending on their health, sex, and privacy needs. Additionally, if girls are sexually active its also good that they have a doctor with whom they feel comfortable enough to get STI screenings and regular gynecological checkups anyway.
    Obviously, if your doctor is less then enthusiastic about contraception that is a huge (and terrible) barrier for young women. I’m not saying that I think oral contraception shouldn’t be available over-the-counter; but I am wondering how we can make it accessible while still being cautious with our health. How do we make birth control available and when do we limit it?

  • Bea Noren

    One thing that frustrates me to no end, in debates about OC, is how the number of women who use it for reasons other than birth control are ignored. Regulation of monthly cycles, treatment of recurrent ovarian cysts, severe cramps, acne are all very valid medical reasons to use this medication. It is ridiculous that so many arguments against the pill ignore these other uses entirely. It’s not a drug to just bail out so-called “sluts,” it’s a genuine medical treatment for a host of women’s issues along with a use as birth control, and I wish this were brought up more often.

    In light of that, it makes sense to need a prescription for it, as a genuine medication really ought to be covered by health insurance. But it also needs to be treated with the same respect and importance as other medications, and not blocked at every turn.