US OB/GYN group backs over-the-counter birth control pills

In a rather controversial move, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) is endorsing the over-the-counter sale of oral contraceptives:

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a call Tuesday for birth control pills to be sold over the counter. Currently oral contraceptives are available only with a doctor’s prescription.

In a policy statement, the organization argues that making birth control pills easier to get will translate into fewer unwanted pregnancies. These unplanned pregnancies remain a major problem in the United States, they write, accounting for approximately 50% of all pregnancies. And such pregnancies, they argue, do not just interrupt lives — they also cost a fortune, with a price tag of approximately $11.1 billion per year, according to an analysis published in the academic journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.

One argument commonly used to argue against making hormonal contraceptives like the pill available over the counter is that they can harm patients if they are not properly screened for contraindications. But the obstetricians and gynecologists point to several studies showing that individuals can successfully screen for such potential problems — and that pharmacists, rather than physicians, can also successfully fill that role.

According to ACOG, physician consultations and prescriptions are unnecessary barriers to women who want access to birth control pills. Women are certainly more than capable of reading warning labels on medications and assessing basic risks, but is it wise to make pills that have potentially profound hormonal effects readily available? Many women believe it is and are rejoicing at the prospect of purchasing their Seasonique as easily as Snickers bars:

Not so fast. Many other women believe ACOG’s position is highly irresponsible:

It is worth noting that a conservative/libertarian case can be made for giving adult women over-the-counter access to the pill:

Birth-control pills can have side effects, of course, but so can such over-the-counter drugs as antihistamines, ibuprofen or the Aleve that once turned me into a scary, hive-covered monster. That’s why even the most common over-the-counter drugs, including aspirin, carry warning labels. Most women aren’t at risk from oral contraceptives, however, just as most patients aren’t at risk from aspirin or Benadryl, and studies suggest that a patient checklist can catch most potential problems.

To further increase safety, over-the-counter sales could start with a progestin-only formulation, sometimes called the “minipill,” rather than the more-common combinations of progestin and estrogen. (Although we casually refer to “The Pill,” oral contraceptives actually come in about 100 formulations.)

Progestin-only pills, or POPs, have fewer contraindications. Unlike combination pills, they’re OK for women with hypertension, for instance, or smokers over the age of 35. The main dangers are fairly rare conditions such as breast cancer or current liver disease. “Not only are POP contraindications rare, but women appear to be able to accurately identify them using a simple checklist without the aid of a clinician,” declares an article forthcoming in the journal Contraception.

Women should be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their input into their personal health care, and, unlike the Sandra Flukes on the Left, conservatives believe that women are capable of using their lady smarts when it comes to sexual health decisions.

This woman raises a great point:

if birth control pills become available over the counter, they’ll no longer be free! ACOG believes that, should the pill be sold over the counter, a provision covering the sale should be added to Obamacare. For a group that claims to believe women are smart and independent enough to make health decisions, they sure do want Julia to stay under Big Government’s thumb.

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