Approval of Plan B to Be Sold Over-the-Counter Raises Questions About Birth Control

We can't seem to escape it. The ever-growing, now political, discussion and debate about women's health rights. That's why I was more than surprised to learn that the Food and Drug Administration had announced that Plan B, the morning-after pill, will now be available to young women over-the-counter (OTC).

The FDA's approval for OTC sales of Plan B just about six weeks ago brought about two major changes. Women 15 and older will now have access to the pill without a prescription. Before, those who were 17 and older had to have a prescription to purchase the pill. And, as "over-the-counter" implies, women will no longer have to request the pill from the pharmacist. 

Although I think the FDA's approval is a step forward and women have the right to emergency contraception, the decision made me question why birth control pills, the most effective form of contraception for sexually active women, isn't offered OTC. Wouldn't it make more sense for sexually active women to have access to the pill, so they won't be in a situation where they'd need to purchase Plan B?

In order for women to be on birth control now, they need a prescription from their doctor, which they'll receive after they more than likely undergo an intrusive pelvic exam–if they have insurance, of course. Why do women need to jump through these hoops when they want to make responsible choices regarding their sex life? 

Although we've heard since our sex ed classes that the only way to avoid pregnancy 100 percent is to practice abstinence, if used correctly, the pill has a pretty high guarantee, too.

Birth control options like the pill, shot, ring, or patch result in two to nine pregnancies per 100 women a year.  With condoms, the risk of pregnancy increases to 15-24 pregnancies per 100 women, which is why condoms shouldn't be the only birth control option offered OTC. 

The pill doesn't pose many risks for women, unless you're a smoker. According to the Mayo Clinic, birth control could affect your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Long term use has been linked to some cancers risks, such as cervical and liver, but decreased risks for others. I don't want to downplay the importance of routine doctors visits, but for a lot of women, that just isn't practical. This would specifically apply to women without insurance, young women or those who simply don't want to undergo an intrusive visit with a gynecologist. 

Planned Parenthood is an alternative for women without insurance, and they may or may not have to be examined, depending on their health. But if women had the convenience of picking up their pill off the shelf at their local CVS or Target when they were running errands, I believe a lot more women would choose this type of birth control. OTC sales are more discrete and less time consuming, especially when it comes to a medication that poses little risk to the user. 

We've all seen the jars of free condoms, offered to men and women alike. If only we as a society were this encouraging when it comes to a woman and her access to birth control. 

Image: Fotolia

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