Birth control pills are safe and should be sold over-the-counter without the need for a doctor’s exam or prescription, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommended Wednesday.
Noting that half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended — a rate unchanged in 20 years — ACOG said easier access to oral contraceptives could help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies.
“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, a scientist with the North Carolina nonprofit FHI 360 (formerly known as Family Health International), told the Associated Press.
Many factors contribute to the high rate of unintended pregnancies in the United States, a situation that costs taxpayers an estimated $11.1 billion each year, ACOG said in a statement. Access and cost are common reasons why women either don’t use contraception or have gaps in use. Making oral contraceptives available without a prescription could possibly reduce the unintended pregnancy rate.
But over-the-counter sales of birth control pills aren’t likely to happen any time soon. A company would first have to get government approval, and it’s not clear if any are thinking about doing so at this time, the AP reported.
In making its case for over-the-counter birth control pills, ACOG pointed to research from the U.S. Institute of Medicine that found that women with an unintended pregnancy are more likely to smoke or drink alcohol during pregnancy, struggle with depression, experience domestic violence, and are less likely to obtain prenatal care or breast-feed.
ACOG acknowledged that all drugs carry risks, and birth control pills are no exception. Use of the Pill has been linked to an increased risk of blood clots, but the physicians’ group said the risk is “extremely low.”
In response to the ACOG statement, Dr. Jill Rabon of New York addressed prospect of younger girls buying over-the-counter birth control pills, and said she hopes the ACOG recommendation doesn’t lead to bypassing parent-child discussion.
She added, however, that “adolescents are adolescents. We want our children to be safe and we want them to not be pregnant and we want them to not contract a viral or bacterial illness. But the literature is that adolescents are sexually active — a significant percentage of them are sexually active.