OB/GYNs back over-the-counter birth control pills

  • Posted: Wednesday, November 21, 2012 7:37 a.m.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — No prescription or doctor’s exam needed: The nation’s largest group of obstetricians and gynecologists says birth control pills should be sold over the counter, like condoms.

Tuesday’s surprise opinion from these gatekeepers of contraception could boost longtime efforts by women’s advocates to make the pill more accessible.

But no one expects the pill to be sold without a prescription any time soon: A company would have to seek government permission first, and it’s not clear if any are considering it.

Already, anyone 17 or older doesn’t need to see a doctor before buying the morning-after pill – a higher-dose version of regular birth control that can prevent pregnancy if taken shortly after unprotected sex.

Now the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is declaring it’s safe to sell the pill that way.

Wait, why would doctors who make money from women’s yearly visits for a birth-control prescription advocate giving that up?

Half of the nation’s pregnancies every year are unintended, a rate that hasn’t changed in 20 years – and easier access to birth control pills could help, said Dr. Kavita Nanda, an OB/GYN who co-authored the opinion for the doctors group.

“It’s unfortunate that in this country where we have all these contraceptive methods available, unintended pregnancy is still a major public health problem,” said Nanda.

Tuesday, the FDA said it was willing to meet with any company interested in making the pill nonprescription, to discuss what if any studies would be needed.

Then there’s the price question. The Obama administration’s new health care law requires FDA-approved contraceptives to be available without copays for women enrolled in most workplace health plans.

If the pill were sold without a prescription, it wouldn’t be covered under that provision, just as condoms aren’t, said Health and Human Services spokesman Tait Sye.

In El Paso, Texas, researchers studied 500 women who regularly crossed the border into Mexico to buy birth control pills, where some U.S. brands sell over the counter. Over nine months, the women who bought in Mexico stuck with their contraception better than another 500 women who received the pill from public clinics in El Paso, possibly because the clinic users had make appointments, said Dr. Dan Grossman of the nonprofit research group Ibis Reproductive Health.

“Being able to easily get the pill when you need it makes a difference,” he said.

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