In order to make birth control more accessible, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) last week recommended it should be available over the counter (OTC). The contraceptive pill and other forms of hormonal contraception are currently only available with a prescription.
One of the major benefits of more readily available birth control would be to lower the unintended birth rate in the USA. Currently, 50 percent of pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned. Reproductive control is important, not only for women’s autonomy, but also the health of women and their children. Studies show when a women actively chooses to get pregnant, her health and that of her child is improved.
The ACOG statement noted: “Unintended pregnancy remains a major public health problem in the United States. According to the Institute of Medicine, women with unintended pregnancy are more likely to smoke or drink alcohol during pregnancy, have depression, experience domestic violence, and are less likely to obtain prenatal care or breastfeed.”
Critics say making the Pill an OTC drug will mean women receive less guidance about taking it and the possible side-effects. For example, antibiotics reduce the effectiveness of the pill, so if it remains a prescription only drug, doctors will be able to counsel a women on the interaction between antibiotics and the Pill.
“We want to think of the idea of optimized pregnancy,” says Ashlesha Patel, MD, MPH, System Director of Family Planning Services of Cook County Healthy & Hospitals System, Chicago. And contraceptive planning and provision helps ensure that the timing, the health of the mother, and the future of the child are all ideal, she says. “It’s a very safe category of drugs that women need free access to, in order to make sure that they’re compliant and adherent.”
Despite ACOG’s recommendation, the Pill is still only available with a prescription. Even so, birth control should be about to become more accessible with the advent of the Affordable Care Act. If you already have private insurance, under the health care reforms you may be entitled to receive certain methods and brands of birth control without a co-pay or deductible. For some people this is an option available now, for others it will be introduced over the next year.