Well Being

Pretty Please? Birth Control Should Be Sold Over-the-Counter, Say Docs

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There's more potential for danger and abuse in a bottle of acetaminophen than a pack of birth control pills, so why is one sold over-the-counter and not the other? No good reason, really — especially considering that about half of pregnancies in the United States are unplanned. Thankfully more doctors and medical groups are recognizing that allowing Americans to prevent minor headaches without jumping through hoops but not life-changing situations like pregnancy is … kind of dumb. The latest to speak up is the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), which released a statement yesterday in support of non- prescription birth control.

The high unintended pregnancy rate in the U.S. has remained unchanged for the past 20 years, the group points out — at an estimated $11.1 billion annual cost to taxpayers. Any risks associated with OTC birth control pill sales would be outweighed by benefits, ACOG says.

The risks are pretty slim anyway. Hormonal contraception may come with a lot of obnoxious side effects for some reason, but most aren't actually dangerous. The pill can increase women's risk of blood clots, but this is rare (and besides, so can pregnancy). And what's the worst that can happen if someone takes it when they don't need to — they don't get pregnant?  There's just no logical reason to keep birth control pills prescription-only. Any arguments otherwise reek of paternalism, sexual prudery and moral panic.

If the powers that be would decide to declassify the Pill, however, it could take quite a while. The Food and Drug Administration would have to conduct studies showing the pill is safe for OTC use and that women could understand its purpose and side effects without a doctor's help.

I guess that's pretty standard procedure  but it sure sounds … insulting. Will our tiny lady brains be able to comprehend reading pill labels?!? For good measure, could we have the pills labeled: “Warning, ladies, these are NOT tic-tacs?” And maybe “This pill does not give you license to be a wanton hussy” (for the Catholics out there)? And for the conservatives, maybe small print noting that “Allowing women to take this step toward controlling their reproductive destiny with minimal hassle or interference does not tacitly imply we think women are full human beings (resales are not endorsements).” That should cover all our bases shouldn't it?

For the record, studies show women support OTC birth control pill access, are able to self-screen whether it's appropriate for them and able to assess the health risks, according to ACOG. Evidence also shows women will continue seeing their gynecologist for screenings and preventative care without needing to go there for a birth control script, and that women who get more than one month's supply of the pill at a time have a higher continuation rate than those who don't.