Birth control pack Credit: Christine Stuart photo

Doctors at the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology are pushing the FDA to allow women to obtain birth control pills without a prescription.

The largest group of physicians made the call during its annual meeting last week.

“Providing patients with OTC access to the birth control pill is an easy call from a public health perspective as the health risks of pregnancy vastly outweigh those of oral contraceptive use,” Dr. David Aizuss, an AMA board member, said in a June 15 statement. “Access is one of the most-cited reasons why patients do not use oral contraceptives, use them inconsistently or discontinue use. Expanding OTC access would make it easier for patients to properly use oral contraceptives, leading to fewer unplanned pregnancies.”

The push comes as it appears the Supreme Court appears likely to overturn Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. A draft majority opinion from Justice Samuel Alito overturning Roe was leaked to the press last month.

Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, D-West Hartford, said there’s a concern that the ruling would extend to birth control because the ruling hinges on the right to privacy. She said the fear is that it will extend from abortion to birth control. 

She said the FDA still has to sign off on the concept of over-the-counter birth control before it hits the shelves. It’s unclear at that point whether the state legislature would need to step in and allow for it to be sold in Connecticut. 

Dr. Sarah Lindsay, an OB/GYN at Hartford Hospital, said the discussion in the medical field is around access. 

She said patients face many barriers to getting a prescription, especially when the pandemic hit and patients were not being seen in person – a requirement for a prescription. 

She said the goal of making them available over-the-counter is to further decrease barriers to access, but they also don’t want there to be a financial barrier. 

Right now the Affordable Care Act makes insurance carriers cover the cost sharing for birth control, but how would that work if they were available without a prescription? 

“The part of the story that’s not fully determined yet is the best way to get around that,” Lindsay said. 

She said there’s interest from the pharmaceutical companies in making birth control available over-the-counter. She said data shows that individuals can self-identify risk, like high blood pressure without an office visit. She also pointed out that pregnancy itself offers a higher risk of blood pressure issues than the birth control pill itself. 

She said birth control prevents pregnancy but it also helps with overall reproductive health. 

Gilchrest said it can help with endometriosis and other reproductive health issues. 

Since 2016, the FDA has been working with two companies who are seeking to eliminate the prescription requirement for two popular formulations of the birth control pill.

In March, 50 members of Congress urged FDA to take action, writing “The health and well-being of people capable of pregnancy across America is at stake.” 

“Birth control pills are one of the most studied medicines on the market today and they meet FDA’s standards for over-the-counter status,” they continued. “Additionally, evidence supports the safety and benefits of over-the-counter birth control pills with no age restriction, and adolescent sexual and reproductive health experts support access for people of all ages. The pill is safe: the prevalence of contraindications is low for all people, and in many cases, lower for young people.”