FDA Is Considering Making Birth Control Pills Available Over the Counter

The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is set to consider whether multiple companies’ versions of oral birth control medication should be made available to consumers over the counter, removing requirements to access such pills through a prescription only.

Paris-based HRA Pharma submitted a request to the FDA on Monday to authorize over-the-counter use of its daily oral birth control pill. Cadence Health, another birth control pill manufacturer whose product is in wide use, has reportedly been in “close dialogue” with the agency about changing its requirements away from prescription-only to over the counter, with plans to submit an application to do so to the FDA later this year.

Most forms of oral birth control are meant to be taken daily. Currently, the only oral birth control medication that is allowed over-the-counter status by the FDA is emergency contraception, such as the Plan B pill, which is meant to be administered within three days of unprotected sex.

The FDA has not yet issued a statement about the potential to make such contraceptives more readily available, a measure that many reproductive rights experts say would make it significantly easier for individuals to take control of their own bodies, particularly for those in marginalized communities that face added obstacles to obtaining the medication.

Writing to the FDA earlier this year to encourage the agency to push forward the consideration of over-the-counter birth control, several Democratic members of Congress said that such barriers to obtaining medication “are disproportionately borne by people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ+ people, low-income individuals, young people, and people in rural communities — individuals who have faced and continue to face the greatest inequities.”

“We urge FDA to review applications for over-the-counter birth control pills without delay and based solely on the data and defend against political interference during the review processes,” the lawmakers said in March. “The health and well-being of people capable of pregnancy across America is at stake.”

On Monday, Iffath Abbasi Hoskins, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, responded positively to the news that the FDA was considering making two companies’ products available over the counter, especially in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision to upend nearly 50 years of abortion rights in the U.S.

“We know that birth control is not a solution to abortion bans, as people need abortion care for many reasons,” Hoskins said. But the change in how individuals purchase birth control medication could help more people to “control their own reproductive futures,” she went on.

Research shows that lifting prescription requirements for birth control medication would benefit a great number of people in the U.S. One in three women who have ever tried to get a prescription for hormonal contraception say they’ve faced obstacles throughout the process, citing difficulties that include the distance to reach a health provider, costs for the appointment, not having the time to take off work or school, or simply not having a health care provider to give out a prescription. Meanwhile, one in four adults and teens who are not currently on birth control also say they would obtain daily pill medication if it was available over the counter.

“Improved access to safe, effective birth control is critical to people’s reproductive rights and health,” said Kelly Blanchard, president of Ibis Reproductive Health, in an op-ed for Truthout in 2019. “Making a birth control pill available over the counter will help ensure everyone can get the birth control they need, when they need it.