It might take a few years, but a French company is trying to bring their new birth control pill to pharmacies everywhere in the U.S.—without a prescription.
Right now, the only way you can get hormonal birth control, like the pill, in the U.S. is to go to your doctor and get a prescription. This can make it difficult and inconvenient for women to access birth control, and as we know, the better the access to birth control, the lower the unwanted pregnancy rate is. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teenage pregnancy rates are at a historic low, and that has a lot to do with birth control.
Well, thanks to a French company called HRA Pharma, the way most people in the U.S. get hormonal birth control is likely in the process of changing. They've partnered with Ibis Reproductive Health, a nonprofit that advocates for women's reproductive rights, to create a birth control pill that's over the counter. Though the process to get this kind of medication approved by the Federal Drug Administration for OTC use is quite lengthy (we're talking years), we're excited to see these two organizations team up to get the ball rolling.
While many agree that it's a good idea to provide an OTC hormonal birth control option, American pharmaceutical companies have been reluctant to introduce one onto the market, probably due to the time and expense required to do so. According to HRA, it's pretty much a no- brainer, though. "At HRA, we are proud of our pioneering work to expand access to contraception for millions of women," the company told Vox. "Oral contraceptives are some of the best-studied medicines on the market today and enjoy longstanding support from medical and public health experts."
It's true that overall, the pill is very safe to use. The main risk carried by oral contraceptives is blood clots, which is generally associated with the combination pill, or the type of pill that includes both estrogen and progestin hormones. That may be part of the reason why HRA's pill will be progestin-only, like many other prescription birth control pills on the market. Progestin-only pills also have other advantages, like lightening or stopping periods altogether. Additionally, Plan B, which is already approved for OTC use, contains only progestin, meaning that there's already an approved medicine with similar ingredients, which makes it more likely that this new one will be allowed. Plus, since some people use Plan B as their main method of birth control, it would be better for those people to switch over to a more effective OTC option. Plan B only prevents pregnancy 75% of the time, and the pill prevents it at a much higher rate—99% if taken exactly as directed, according to Planned Parenthood.
It's also worth noting that you can get birth control pills from your pharmacist in California and Oregon already, though this isn't technically "over the counter" since you must consult with a pharmacist before getting medicine. Fingers crossed the announcement of this new drug will make it easier to get birth control in every state. (If you're curious how this might affect people's attitudes towards sex, here's one woman's story of what it was like to grow up with the pill OTC.)