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Why Isn't Birth Control Over the Counter?

Over-the-Counter Birth Control Might Be Available Soon — but Why Isn't It Already?

Women in a few states like California can already get birth control without needing a doctor's prescription, but women in the rest of the country are hardly as lucky. A French company hopes to change that by making birth control pills available over the counter in the US.

French pharmaceutical company HRA Pharma is partnering with an international nonprofit that advocates for accessible birth control called Ibis Reproductive Health to pursue FDA approval of a prescription-free pill, according to Vox.

While the timeline for approval is unpredictable, Ibis President Kelly Blanchard told Vox that they intend to apply in the US within a few years; the company has already commenced research and started the process. Of the two oral contraceptives available, progestin-only and a progestin-combined-with-estrogen pill, HRA Pharma and Ibis will apply with a progestin-only pill. Plan B and other emergency contraceptives, which are already available without prescriptions, are progestin-only pills.

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You may be wondering why over-the-counter birth control hasn't been widely available before, and the answer is slightly surprising. While politics do play a role, as exemplified by the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision that contested birth control coverage in health care plans, the painstaking FDA process for over-the-counter approval is a major deterrent for pharmaceutical companies.

Some House Republicans have even supported the idea — if not for ulterior and enterprising reasons, though. Allowing women to buy birth control without a prescription could supersede a mandate of the Affordable Care Act that covers birth control within health insurance premiums.

Recently, Donald Trump's nominee for Health and Human Services Tom Price said he supported legislation that would authorize over-the-counter birth control, but Democrats criticized the GOP argument as a transparent tactic to undermine the Affordable Care Act.

Coupled with political pushback and FDA regulations, the process for prescription-free birth control could take years. But the process has started and is already receiving praise.

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Sheila Gim
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