Doctors Back Selling Over-the-Counter Birth Control Pills

This undated image shows a package of estrogen/progestin birth control pills.

This undated image shows a package of estrogen/progestin birth control pills.  (AP)

No prescriptions, no doctor’s exam — no problem?

The nation’s largest group of obstetricians and gynecologists are stating birth control pills should be sold over the counter, like condoms.

This opinion, which was announced on Tuesday, could boost longtime efforts by women’s advocates to make the pill more accessible.

However, no one expects the pill to be sold without a prescription anytime soon. A company would have to seek government permission first, and it’s not clear if any are considering it. In addition, there are questions about what such a move would mean for many women’s wallets if it were no longer covered by insurance.

Still, momentum may be building.

Already, anyone 17 or older doesn’t need to see a doctor before buying the morning-after pill — a higher-dose version of regular birth control that can prevent pregnancy if taken shortly after unprotected sex. Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held a meeting to gather ideas about how to sell regular oral contraceptives without a prescription.

Now the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is declaring it’s safe to sell the pill in the same way.

According to Dr. Kavita Nanda, an OB/GYN who co-authored the opinion for the group, half of the nation’s pregnancies are unintended; a rate that hasn’t changed in 20 years, which means easier access to birth control pills could help.

“It’s unfortunate that in this country where we have all these contraceptive methods available, unintended pregnancy is still a major public health problem,” said Nanda. She also added many women have trouble affording a doctor’s visit or getting a appointment in time when their pills are running low, which can lead to skipped doses.

If the pill didn’t require a prescription, women could “pick it up in the middle of the night if they run out,” said Nanda. “It removes those types of barriers.”

The FDA said Tuesday it was willing to meet with any company interested in making the pill nonprescription to discuss what if any studies would be needed. The Obama’s administration’s new health care law requires FDA-approved contraceptives to be available without co-pays for women enrolled in most workplace health plans.

Health and Human Services spokesman Tait Sye said if the pill were sold without a prescription, it wouldn’t be covered under the provision, just as condoms aren’t.

The opinion, which was published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, says any move toward making the pill nonprescription should address the cost issue.

In El Paso, Texas, researchers studied 500 women who regularly crossed the border into Mexico to buy birth control pills, where some U.S. brands sell over the counter for a few dollars a pack.

Over nine months, the women who bought in Mexico stuck with their contraception better than another 500 women who received the pill from public clinics in El Paso, possibly because the clinic users had to wait for appointments, said Dr. Dan Grossman of the University of California, San Francisco, and the nonprofit research group Ibis Reproductive Health.

"Being able to easily get the pill when you need it makes a difference," he said.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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