This is huge news for several reasons—some obvious, some not so obvious.
As reported by Pam Belluck, writing for The New York Times:
The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved a birth control pill to be sold without a prescription for the first time in the United States, a milestone that could significantly expand access to contraception.
The medication, called Opill, will become the most effective birth control method available over the counter — more effective at preventing pregnancy than condoms, spermicides and other nonprescription methods. Experts in reproductive health said its availability could be especially useful for young women, teenagers and those who have difficulty dealing with the time, costs or logistical hurdles involved in visiting a doctor to obtain a prescription.
This is a landmark development for anyone who may become pregnant. It’s also a devastating blow against the machinations of the right-wing religious fanatics who have targeted contraception in their grand plans for controlling the reproductive decisions and bodily autonomy of everyone who doesn’t subscribe to their patriarchal and misogynistic belief systems.
As Belluck reports:
Since the Supreme Court overturned the national right to an abortion last year, the accessibility of contraception has become an increasingly urgent issue. But long before that, the move to make a nonprescription pill available for all ages had received widespread support from specialists in reproductive and adolescent health and groups like the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Family Physicians.
According to Perrigo Company, Opill’s Dublin-based manufacturer, “the pill,” as it has generally been referred to for the past 60-odd years, will be available for purchase “from stores and online retailers” in early 2024. As Belluck reports, it is identical to the same medication now only available by prescription, with an effectiveness rate of 93%. The cost of Perrigo’s birth control pill has not yet been released, but the manufacturer states it is committed to making the pill affordable for patients of all ages.
As reported by the Associated Press, there also will be no age restriction on sales of the pill.
Hormone-based pills have long been the most common form of birth control in the U.S., used by tens of millions of women since the 1960s. Until now, all of them required a prescription.
Medical societies and women’s health groups have pushed for wider access, noting that an estimated 45% of the 6 million annual pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended. Teens and girls, women of color and those with low incomes report greater hurdles in getting prescriptions and picking them up.
As Belluck notes, currently the Affordable Care Act mandates coverage for prescription birth control medication but that coverage does not encompass over-the-counter contraception … yet.
Under a recent executive order by President Biden, the federal government could soon take steps toward requiring insurers to cover over-the-counter birth control. And Senate Democrats have reintroduced legislation to require such coverage.
Progress inexorably marches on despite the best efforts of the religious right to halt or reverse it.