Birth control pills shouldn’t be OTC without medical advice

A recent study found that over-the-counter (OTC) access to birth control pills improved overall usage of the pill, but at the expense of the women’s health. OTC birth control pills in theory aren’t a bad idea, as more women could have access to them, but it would be irresponsible and dangerous to allow them to be OTC without some type of medical oversight, such as a conversation with the pharmacist.  

Don’t get me wrong — women need easy access to birth control pills. Nineteen percent of women don’t have health insurance — nearly one in every five women — so making the mandatory doctor visit to snag a birth control prescription isn’t convenient or cheap for many women. Being able to go to CVS or Rite-Aid and get birth control pills would give these women — and others who forget to schedule appointments or perfectly time appointments for refills — drastically improved access to birth control pills, without a doubt.

But birth control pills are not created equal, so women shouldn’t choose these pills themselves, without any medical advice whatsoever. Birth control pill brands each contain different combinations of hormones, which affect each person’s period and health differently — this is why some type of medical expertise is essential to prevent negative, dangerous health side effects (think of all the commercials for birth control pills that warn, “don’t take this pill if …”). The study did highlight this problem, and stated that there were “more negative side effects and health consequences” for women who took birth control pills without a prescription.

Medical supervision is also necessary so that women get a birth control pill that fits their needs. Not everyone takes birth control pills for pregnancy preventation, and those that do might also be looking to birth control pills to alleviate other problems, such as acne, cramps, mood swings, heavy periods, and lengthy periods. A medical professional can better assess what pill fits your needs than continuous trial and error can.

Also, medical professionals are necessary to explain proper birth control pill use. I don’t know how many stories I’ve heard of pregnancy caused because, although the woman was taking birth control pills, she wasn’t using it effectively. Some of this is likely related to women not getting refills properly because of the mandatory doctor visit, but some of this is simply related to poor communication between doctor and patient. If communicating proper use is already a problem, taking medical professionals out of the equation will only make it worse.

Birth control pills — though tiny and colorful — shouldn’t be taken lightly. Access to contraception is definitely a problem that needs to be addressed, but removing the medical aspect completely would only create new problems, likely leaving women with more health problems — which is especially bad because uninsured women would be most likely to use OTC birth control pills, but would also be least likely to have affordable and easy access to a doctor if those pills caused health problems.

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