-- HealthDay staff
WEDNESDAY, Nov. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Birth control pills are
safe and should be sold over-the-counter without the need for a
doctor's exam or prescription, the American College of
Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommended Tuesday.
Noting that half of all pregnancies in the United States are
unintended -- a rate unchanged in 20 years -- ACOG said easier
access to oral contraceptives could help reduce the number of
"It's unfortunate that in this country where we have all these contraceptive methods available, unintended pregnancy is still a major public health problem," Dr. Kavita Nanda, a scientist with the North Carolina nonprofit FHI 360 (formerly known as Family Health International), told the Associated Press.
Many factors contribute to the high rate of unintended
pregnancies in the United States, a situation that costs taxpayers
an estimated $11.1 billion each year, ACOG said in a statement.
Access and cost are common reasons why women either don't use
contraception or have gaps in use. Making oral contraceptives
available without a prescription could possibly reduce the
unintended pregnancy rate, said ACOG, the nation's largest group of
obstetricians and gynecologists.
But over-the-counter sales of birth control pills aren't likely
to happen any time soon. A company would first have to get
government approval, and it's not clear if any are thinking about
doing so at this time, the
It's also not clear how much birth control pills would cost
women if they were no longer covered by insurance. ACOG estimates
that young women and the uninsured currently pay an average of $16
for a month's supply.
In making its case for over-the-counter birth control pills,
ACOG pointed to research from the U.S. Institute of Medicine that
found that women with an unintended pregnancy are more likely to
smoke or drink alcohol during pregnancy, struggle with depression,
experience domestic violence, and are less likely to obtain
prenatal care or breast-feed. Also, short intervals between
pregnancies have been linked to low birth weight babies and
prematurity, which increase the chances of health and developmental
problems for the child, the physicians' group said.
ACOG acknowledged that all drugs carry risks, and birth control
pills are no exception. Use of the Pill has been linked to an
increased risk of blood clots, but the physicians' group said the
risk is "extremely low."
Dr. Jill Rabin is chief of ambulatory care, obstetrics and
gynecology, head of urogynecology at Long Island Jewish Medical
Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y. Responding to the ACOG
recommendation, she said, "This isn't a new discussion, it's been
in discussion for at least the last four years, and this isn't a
committee opinion that they wrote lightly."
Noting that it's "not a black-and-white issue, obviously there
are risks and benefits," Rabin said she supports the recommendation
"because they (ACOG) looked at the literature very, very carefully.
This is a spectrum of practitioners, academicians and they really
weighed the data very carefully."
Addressing the prospect of younger girls buying over-the-counter
birth control pills, Rabin said she hopes the ACOG recommendation
doesn't lead to bypassing parent-child discussion.
She added, however, that "adolescents are adolescents. We want
our children to be safe and we want them to not be pregnant and we
want them to not contract a viral or bacterial illness. But the
literature is that adolescents are sexually active -- a significant
percentage of them are sexually active.
"We want our kids to come to us [as parents] regardless and hopefully they will," Rabin said. "It's better to open the discussion. We stress abstinence but we want to be realistic, too, we want to keep our kids safe and healthy. The fact is that an unwanted pregnancy in a 14-year-old girl is a devastating thing. It interrupts school, it interrupts life, it's physically more difficult because their bodies aren't completely developed."
Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration held a
meeting to collect ideas about how to sell regular birth control
pills without a prescription. And on Tuesday, the FDA said it would
meet with any company interested in making a non-prescription birth
control pill to discuss what studies would be needed for approval,
The ACOG statement is published in the December issue of the
Obstetrics & Gynecology.
To learn more about oral contraceptives, visit the
U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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