Free Over-the-Counter Birth Control? Lawmakers are Saying “Yes”
Updated: May 3
By Eleni Pacheco
Citing reproductive healthcare as an economic and civil rights issue, House Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts introduced the Affordability is Access Act – a congressional bill that would require insurance companies to completely cover oral contraceptives (the pill) without a doctor’s prescription.
Communities that experience higher rates of unintended pregnancies also experience lower rates of contraceptive access and use. Nearly half of the people who could not afford contraceptives report that they would start using methods like the pill or the ring if it were available over-the-counter at their local pharmacies. In low-income areas, however, the availability of healthcare isn’t enough to make it accessible. Lawmakers and researchers alike believe that the success of this bill relies on removing both barriers to using birth control: access to healthcare providers and cost.
Understandably, some question the safety of making a once-prescribed drug available without a doctor’s consultation. Medical research groups ACOG and ANSIRH, however, have no medical concerns about offering the pill OTC. Notably, oral contraceptives have similar non-serious side effects as OTC medications like Tylenol or aspirin. Considering that pregnancy and parenthood are major undertakings, professionals agree that the benefits outweigh the risks. In fact, many countries around the world already offer OTC contraceptives.
Furthermore, the bill will include the same FDA approved contraceptives currently covered by the Affordable Care Act – simply without deductibles, copays, and mandatory wellness exams that don’t actually include testing to find the contraceptive method that works best with the person’s body. As it is, doctors use a trial-and-error method of prescribing the right birth control, meaning that if the patient is uncomfortable with one prescription, they can contact their doctor to have it changed. In the case of OTC contraception, users can still consult with their doctor or pharmacist for help or recommendations.
By adding options for healthcare, the Affordability is Access Act could be a step to fundamentally change the pregnancy prevention landscape for the better.
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Eleni Pacheco, San Antonio Project Coordinator, discovered their passion for culture and sexuality while studying anthropology at UTSA. They chose to work in sex ed with the mission of creating world peace through shared power and community efficacy. Outside of education, Eleni shows love by feeding their friends (often experimenting on them with new recipes) and bonding over backyard karaoke.