Updated Jul 13, 2023 - Health

Over-the-counter birth control is a post-Roe "game-changer"

Illustration of a reach-in candy jar pull of pills, with a few pills outside the jar.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The most commonly prescribed contraceptive in America is getting easier to access, if you can afford it or live in the right state.

Why it matters: The role of of contraception has become more vital with mounting abortion restrictions across the U.S., a year after the Supreme Court ended the federal right to abortion.

  • The FDA's approval of the first over-the-counter birth control pill, Opill, in the U.S. on Thursday is a "a game changer in terms of access," Dr. Julia Cron, chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital, told Axios.

Driving the news: More than 100 countries provide over-the-counter birth control pills without a prescription.

  • But similar progress has buckled in the U.S. thanks to lengthy regulatory processes and limited research in reproductive heath, Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley, the CEO of reproductive wellbeing nonprofit of Power to Decide, said.
  • Opill was the first birth control pill to be considered by the FDA as an over-the-counter option, and it could now pave the way for more, McDonald-Mosley added.

Meanwhile, more pharmacists across the U.S. have gradually been allowed to prescribe birth control, eliminating additional trips to other providers — though still requiring an extra layer of approval.

State of play: Opill will be available in early 2024 for purchase at drug stores, convenience stores, grocery stores and online. Its cost has not yet been announced.

  • It is one of dozens of birth control pill brands that exist, which people may still seek out for personal health or insurance coverage reasons.
  • At least 13 states require insurers to cover all over-the-counter contraceptive methods.

Until Opill becomes available over the counter, birth control pills will continue to require a prescription from a doctor, nurse or pharmacist.

  • The latter category is typically covered in part by insurance, but it can vary based on brands and providers

Between the lines: One-third of hormonal contraceptive users have missed taking birth control because they weren't able to get their next supply, per a survey from health policy research organization KFF.

  • Challenges included costs, lack of insurance, obtaining an appointment or getting to a clinic.
  • People have also faced challenges accessing the pill because of language barriers or education levels.

The big picture: Unintended pregnancies are linked to an unmet need for contraception, the CDC has said.

  • Experts are hoping the FDA move helps lower this rate.

Go deeper: Biden to sign executive order to expand free birth control access

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