Women back over-the-counter birth control pill

Close to two-thirds of women favour making contraceptive pills available over the counter, according to a new nationally-representative survey.

In addition, about 30% of women using either no birth control or a less effective method - such as condoms - said they would likely take the Pill if it was sold without a prescription, researchers found.

"Of course it's a hypothetical question, and it remains to be seen how this would play out in reality," said Dr. Daniel Grossman, from the University of California, San Francisco and the non profit Ibis Reproductive Health, who led the new study.

But the finding "gives us some indication that making the Pill over the counter could help improve use of more effective contraception and help women use the method they'd like to use," Grossman told Reuters Health. It could also potentially reduce unplanned pregnancies, he noted."There's mounting evidence that this is safe, this is effective and women really want it."

'Morning after' pill

The results come amid news that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is appealing a court order directing the agency to make the "morning after" emergency contraceptive Plan B available over the counter to women of any age.

Late last year, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists published a statement recommending that birth control pills be available over the counter.

For the new study, researchers surveyed just over 2 000 women aged 18 to 44 about their attitudes toward over-the-counter access to the Pill. None of those women was pregnant or trying to become pregnant, and all had been sexually active with men in the past year.

About 31% of participants each said they were "strongly" or "somewhat" in favour of women being able to buy birth control pills without a prescription, according to findings published in the journal Contraception.

"It shows that, just as I think physicians' attitudes seem to be changing over time, women's attitudes are also changing over time," said Dr. Kavita Nanda, a contraception and family planning researcher at FHI 360 in Durham, North Carolina.

Over-the-counter access more convenient

Women in the study said over-the-counter access would make getting the Pill more convenient, save time and money and prevent unintended pregnancies. However, they also noted some downsides, such as women possibly choosing a pill that's wrong for them.

Nanda, who wasn't involved in the new research, said resistance to making birth control pills more accessible has stemmed from concerns that women need a doctor to determine whether the drugs are safe given their particular situation, and that the women won't go to regular check-ups if they can get pills without a doctor's help.

But those theories haven't played out in other studies, she told Reuters Health. Research suggests, for example, that women are able to look at a checklist of contraindications and determine if the Pill is safe for them, she said. Having uncontrolled high blood pressure or a history of breast cancer or blood clots may all make birth control pills less safe, she noted.

Grossman agreed with Nanda that any safety issues have largely been addressed. "There was one piece that was missing from the research that had been done to date, and that was really documenting the demand for this among women," he said. "Women really are interested in this. "Close to half of pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"I see this issue, of moving the regular birth control pill over the counter, as the next big advance in improving access to effective contraception," Grossman said.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
The ANC's leadership race is heating up. Who do you think will be elected party president at Nasrec in December?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has got it in the bag
6% - 207 votes
I foresee a second term for Cyril Ramaphosa
81% - 2686 votes
Don’t discount a Zweli Mkhize win
12% - 410 votes
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.