Birth control pills should be available over-the-counter

In an age of restricted abortion access, pregnancy prevention tools are more important than ever.

Birth control pills should be universally available to purchase over-the-counter, regardless of age.

You can already buy Plan B at any Rite Aid or Walgreens in town. The Food and Drug Administration recently announced their 2023 decision to allow the sale of medical abortion pills at retail pharmacies.

So why do birth control pills still require a prescription from a medical provider?

Birth control pills are some of the best short-term contraceptives on the market. When used correctly with a condom or another barrier method, the risk of pregnancy is very low. It’s easily reversible and non-invasive compared to birth control implants and progesterone shots. In addition to preventing pregnancy, birth control pills are prescribed for their off-label benefits such as menstrual cycle regulation and management of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) symptoms. 

I am one of millions of people that use a daily birth control pill as part of pregnancy prevention. I’m really lucky. 

For one, I live in a state where I can easily access reproductive care. I am on the Molina Apple Healthcare plan, which is a free Washington health insurance option for low-income residents. This means that my birth control prescription is absolutely cost-free at the pharmacy. I also asked my primary care physician for a prescription for Plan B so that I can have access to emergency contraception if needed (this is also cost-free!) As someone with a uterus in a post-Roe reality, you cannot be too careful. Like so many others, the personal is the political and the political is personal.

Other people are not as lucky as me. For people with different insurances, birth control comes with a financial cost. Some people may not want their friends, family, or partner to know they are using birth control pills. Others may be underage and unable to ask their doctor without their parents knowing. If you are without access to a primary care physician, birth control pills are inaccessible. Regardless of your situation, pregnancy prevention is an intensely personal decision that everyone should be able to make, should they so desire.

Access to birth control pills would be easier for everyone if they were available as an over-the-counter purchase just like Tylenol or Benadryl. There is a precedent for accessibility of other hormonal birth control medications. This would also give people with uteruses one more tool in their reproductive agency toolkit. 

Non-prescription birth control means that a spouse making exit plans from an abusive relationship doesn’t fear coercive conception as a means of abusive control. It means that a couple or a high-school aged girl can make responsible family planning decisions.

There are health risks involved in taking birth control pills – if you are over 35 and a smoker, birth control pills increase your risk of blood clot, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. However, the health risks involved in pregnancy and birth are astronomically higher. I would much rather take an informed consumer risk than undergo one of the most physically taxing processes a body can go through. 

Right now, Washington is a sanctuary state for reproductive rights. Effective birth control is a key component to lowering abortion rates. Pushing for expansive birth control accessibility is the next step in preserving our right to choose.