Little Packs of Pills

The growing need for accessible oral contraceptives

Sarah Reinbrecht, Contributing Writer

Accessibility is a major factor in purchasing any product. For a product to be successfully bought, it needs to be accessible. Birth control, particularly oral contraceptives, are no different; if it is not accessible, birth control will not be bought and used. Unfortunately, too many women, particularly young women and teenage girls, are aware of this reality. Because oral contraceptives require a prescription, there is a clear barrier preventing women and teenage girls from accessing oral contraceptives. Due to the various benefits that oral contraception offers, oral contraceptives should be available over the counter in order to make them more accessible.

When considering that teen pregnancy rates have steadily decreased since 2007, one might think that oral contraceptives are less necessary to prevent pregnancy than they were in previous years. However, about 60 percent of teenage girls rely on the withdrawal method according to Insider. Planned Parenthood estimates that method is only 73 percent effective, making it a fairly risky form of birth control. Oral contraceptives, on the other hand, are about 91 percent effective even when used incorrectly, and they are the third most popular method of birth control. If oral contraceptives were available over the counter, it is likely that more teenage girls would use this more effective form of birth control, further contributing to the decrease in teen pregnancy rates.

As established in the first paragraph, the required prescription from a doctor for oral contraceptives is a barrier to getting them. That is especially true for the 17 percent of women who do not have access to a primary care doctor according to Fierce Healthcare; this percentage further varies with race. Allowing oral contraceptives to be purchased over the counter would allow those women to still buy birth control and enjoy the various benefits that oral contraceptives offer.

Many teenage girls may have access to a primary care doctor, but they may still be under their parents’ insurance. Even if their parents do not allow them to get a prescription for birth control pills, over-the-counter oral contraceptives would allow them to prevent pregnancies while they are sexually active. Ideally, parents and teenagers would communicate and work together on finding and buying the best form of birth control for the teenager, but because that does not always happen and teens may still be sexually active, over-the-counter oral contraceptives would help teenagers prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Further, women and teenage girls may want to use oral contraceptives for legitimate reasons beyond preventing pregnancy, such as reducing the pain of menstrual cramps or treating fibroid cysts. Providing oral contraceptives would ensure women have easy access to a beneficial medicine.

Admittedly, oral contraceptives do carry some risks. However, women are generally aware of the health risks and are capable of determining if they are healthy enough to start taking oral contraceptives. Further, NPR reports that the negative side effects of oral contraceptives may not be as severe for teenagers, making it fairly safe for them to get oral contraceptives over-the-counter.

Ultimately, NPR cites a doctor that states “these pills are safe and effective and we should reduce barriers to using them.” Over-the-counter oral contraceptives offer various benefits to women and the people around them, and with minimal health risks and increased convenience, it is logical that oral contraceptives should be available over the counter.