Pros, cons of over-the-counter birth control


Birth control pills

Leah Hansen

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends birth control pills be offered over the counter. The college is hoping this step would help prevent unplanned pregnancies. More than half of the pregnancies in the United States are unplanned.

There are pros and cons to this decision. Having increased access could offer women a chance to take control of their reproductive health. Women in poverty who cannot afford to go to the doctors would have access to birth control pills. Also, women wouldn’t need to schedule a doctor’s appointment when their pills are about to run out.

“I feel this is a great option for women, but women will need to take responsibility to be educated on side effects and take [the pills] appropriately,” said Reanna Lile, registered nurse at the birthways unit at the Mary Greeley Medical Center.

However, no one would be required to talk with a doctor about the benefits and risks of birth control.

“Sometimes we can ask more probing questions than she would think up, so it becomes a dialogue rather than just a list of information,” said Greg Yeakel, chief staff pharmacist at the Thielen Student Health Center. “Over the counter, you miss that [discussion with a pharmacist]. If someone comes in and picks up something, then they’re not confronted with it; they’re not given the opportunity to access that [advice]. I think it’s prudent to do that.” 

It would be up to the women to know which brand and dose she needs, what are the side effects, what other medications may interfere with birth control and any other questions she might have regarding the product. Critics of the American College’s statement are concerned women will not know these without a doctor referral.

“One of my biggest concerns is how would a young woman discern which birth control is right for her, because there are many,” Yeakel said.

If a company decides it would like its product offered over the counter, it’s not a sudden occurrence. Each individual company must take a proposal to the government and have it passed.

“It’s not going to happen anytime soon, but if someone wants to pursue this we could see it in three to four years,” Yeakel said.

With the new Affordable Care Act under President Barack Obama, birth control would be covered by insurance — if it’s a prescription medicine. If birth control is sold over the counter, it would not be covered.

“In the past, when medicines went over the counter, insurances companies [stopped covering the medicines],” Yeakel said.