The influential American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) officially recommended on Tuesday that birth control pills should be sold without a prescription, according to the Associated Press.
The group, which establishes industry standards for OB-GYNs, cited a number of reasons that the pills should be made more widely available, including that the most common side effects — blood clots — are extraordinarily rare and women can easily tell if they have behaviors, such as smoking, that increase the risk. They also said that while women should continue to visit doctors regularly for reproductive care, Pap smears aren’t necessary for birth control pills.
“It’s unfortunate that in this country where we have all these contraceptive methods available, unintended pregnancy is still a major public health problem,” Dr. Kavita Nanda, an OB/GYN who co-authored the recommendation, told the AP. Unintended pregnancies, ACOG estimates, cost taxpayers $11.1 billion annually.
Nanda, an associate medical director with the North Carolina human development nonprofit FHI 360, said that women who can’t make it to the doctor due to cost or inability to get an appointment will skip or reduce doses, putting women at risk of unintended pregnancy.
But before pills can be sold over the counter, a company that makes and sells them would have to initiate approval from the Food and Drug Administration, which said Tuesday it was open to meeting with any company willing to sell birth control pills over the counter to discuss what if any studies need to be conducted. The AP reported that it’s unclear if any companies are interested in taking those steps.
Emergency contraception, a stronger dose of the birth control pill, is already available to women over 17 without a prescription.
A study by Ibis Reproductive Health released last year looked at women living in a Texas border town who had access to over-the-counter birth control pills in Mexico, where a prescription isn’t required by regulation, and found that women with access to the pills at a pharmacy were more likely to take it consistently.
However, they also found that these women were more likely to be taking the wrong birth control type, either the wrong dosage or the wrong combination of hormones, than women who accessed birth control from a doctor.
Prominent Catholics, including New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, have pledged to continue fighting improved access to contraception, most notably fighting the Health and Human Services regulation that requires insurance companies to provide contraception to women without a co-pay.
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