OB/GYNs Back Over-The-Counter Birth Control

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Nov. 21 2012 11:00 AM

OB/GYNs Back Over-The-Counter Birth Control, but Hurdles Remain

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Prescription contraceptives for women sit on the counter of a drug store on August 1, 2011 in Los Angeles, California

Photo Illustration by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images.

The nation's largest group of obstetricians and gynecologists announced yesterday that oral contraceptives are safe to sell without a prescription, a huge boon for advocates of increasing contraceptive accessibility.

There are a couple of hurdles preventing such easy access, however. For starters, prescription-free birth control pills wouldn't be covered under the Obamacare reform provision that requires workplace health insurance plans to provide copay-free contraceptives. That could pose a cost issue for some women, the Associated Press explains, which seems counterproductive to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists's desire to increase access to the pill.

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Second, a company selling the pill would first have to get the FDA to grant permission for it to be sold without a doctor's visit. That process could take years, and no company has so far asked. But, as the AP reports, the FDA responded to the ACOG's recommendation by saying that they'd meet with any company considering prescription-free sales.

Nevertheless, the ACOG recommendation lays out an argument addressing the safety of the drug that explains why the group thinks a doctor's visit is unnecessary. As CNN explains, usage statistics of other medications moved from prescription-only to over-the-counter have demonstrated that use will probably increase should contraceptives also go over-the-counter:

When nicotine patches and gum went on sale over the counter, attempts to quit smoking using those products nearly doubled, statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show. And sales of emergency contraception doubled in the year after Plan B One Step "morning-after pill" went over the counter, according to the advocacy group OCs OTC.

The emergency contraception pill's example also points to a third obstacle for the group's recommendation, namely, social politics. Plan B is still only available without a prescription to women older than 17, thanks to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius's overrulling of the FDA's decision.

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.

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