Birth control pills should be available over-the-counter rather than requiring a doctor visit and prescription, according to a group of OB/GYNs.
The recommendation was made by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), who stated that increasing access to birth control for women can reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies in the United States, reports NBC News.
The rate of unplanned pregnancies in the US — about 50 percent — has not changed in the past 20 years, but the group believes that, should birth control become an over the counter medicine, the rate would be reduced.
Selling the birth control pills over-the-counter (OTC) does come with risks because, like any drug, the pill has potential side effects. There are also concerns that the pill would be taken but women who should not be taking it. Despite this, the ACOG believes that the benefits outweigh the risks.
The availability of the birth control pill over-the-counter would not change overnight. The FDA would first require drug companies to conduct studies that prove the pill is safe for OTC use. Among other things, they would have to show that women who haven’t consulted with their doctor still understand the pill’s side effects and when they should not take it.
CBS News notes that oral contraception is the most commonly used form of birth control in the US. Some women do not take the pill or stop using them for a period of time because of access issues and associated costs. The committee on Gynecologic Practice wrote an opinion about making birth control OTC, saying:
“A potential way to improve contraceptive access and use, and possibly decrease the unintended pregnancy rate, is to allow over-the-counter access to [oral contraceptives].”
Allowing birth control pills to become an over-the-counter medication does raise concerns, such as women missing out on other important health services like screening for sexually transmitted diseases and cervical cancer. In their recommendation, however, the ACOG cited a study about the screening habits of women who obtained birth control from a doctor versus from over-the-counter pharmacies in Mexico.
Both groups in the study reported a high screening rate for Pap tests, STD tests, and breast exams, suggesting that making the pill an over-the-counter medicine would not affect screening rates.
The nonprofit Oral Contraceptives Over-the-Counter Working Group notes that birth control pills are available without a prescription or screening in 30 countries. Do you think the United States should allow over-the-counter birth control pills?
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