RMC Responds: Taking Contraception Over the Counter

rmc_responds1 Recently, Republican candidates for federal office across the nation have embraced the concept of selling birth control over-the-counter–essentially, allowing women to access contraceptives on their own terms without a doctor’s prescription. This is a not a bad idea, but it is not as simple as some of these leaders suggest and certainly not a panacea in making progress in efforts to prevent teen and unplanned pregnancy.  One commenter on our Facebook page said I think this is a great move. I really don’t care why the GOP supports expanding access to birth control, just that they do.”

We agree this is a good step in the right direction. Republican support for over-the-counter contraception reveals that many Republican leaders recognize the vital social AND economic impact that better access to contraception will have for millions of women and families. This is a commonsense solution that demands and deserves attention. Increasing the choices available to consumers is the cornerstone of our nation and our party. And, anything that expands options for women seeking contraception is progress.  However, there is no silver bullet or cure-all solution.  OTC contraception does not replace the need for equity in insurance coverage of contraception, or access to family planning for low-income women

There is no quick legislative fix for making contraception available without a doctor’s prescription and there are many existing barriers. It would take a lot of time, effort, and money on the side of pharmaceutical companies in order to do the testing necessary to discover which pills can safely be made available. Moreover, we have seen that when drugs move over-the-counter, they generally become more expensive. Additionally, as most women know well, there is no single method of birth control that suits all women, so it would not be possible or medically sound to move the pill over the counter and have a one-size-fits-all solution.  In fact, some of the most effective birth control methods are long-acting devices, such as implants and Intrauterine Devices (IUDs) that require a physician appointment.

At our recent conference, Focus 54, Dr. Hal Lawrence of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) weighed in saying, “ACOG supports over the counter birth control but there are many hurdles before we reach this.” He also cited the negative fiscal consequences of unplanned pregnancies and suggested that if contraception was also available over-the-counter it could save this country as much as 2 billion dollars in healthcare costs.

 Birth control is an essential tool in family planning, and maintaining access to it is a part of women and families’ economic bottom line.  We know that when women have easy access to safe and effective contraception, the rate of unintended pregnancy, teen pregnancy, and abortion drastically decrease. Making birth control available over the counter would be an excellent way to give women another avenue for accessing family planning services as they choose.  However this must be part of an overall policy plan NOT the only action. It is absolutely vital that we ensure women have access to contraception through all possible means – including protecting funding for preventive health care through the Title X federal family planning program.

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