Everyone deserves access to high-quality contraception. Ninety-nine percent of US women aged 15-44 who have ever had sex have used contraceptives to prevent pregnancy, manage health conditions and ensure autonomy over their own bodies. Despite the fact that we need to keep fighting political attacks on birth control insurance coverage and access, we also don’t want to lose sight of the future that reproductive justice advocates are fighting for: truly accessible sexual and reproductive health care for all people and the ability for every person to make decisions about their own bodies and lives with dignity.
Since the birth control pill first came on the market more than 50 years ago, women have made enormous strides. The pill has helped women to achieve higher levels of educational and career advancement, more fully participate in the workforce, and face less economic insecurity by allowing them to control when and whether they become pregnant. One-third of the wage gains women have achieved over the 1980s and 1990s have been attributed to access to birth control pills. Access to contraception translates to healthier mothers, newborns, families and communities by allowing people to help time and space births.
Birth control pills are safe and effective, but there are currently too many barriers to access them. Almost one in three women who have ever tried to get a prescription for birth control said they’ve faced obstacles, including not having a regular health care provider, the distance to visit a health care provider, the cost for an appointment, or challenges taking time off from work or school.
The US needs to take bold steps to make birth control more accessible. An over-the-counter birth control pill that is affordable and available to people of all ages is a critical step in that direction. An over-the-counter pill would reduce the unnecessary barriers that stand between women and the birth control they need, which disproportionately affect low-income, poor and young women, and would increase opportunities for all people to access safe, effective contraception.
Research shows that more women might start using the pill if they could get it over the counter: In a recent study, nearly 1 in 4 adults and teens currently not using any birth control method said they would use an over-the-counter pill. Birth control pills are one of the best-studied medicines on the market today, with decades of research and experience showing they are safe for over-the-counter use. While having a Pap smear or pelvic exam is important for other health reasons, there’s no medical reason to make it a prerequisite for birth control. People want to access their birth control in new ways, with fewer obstacles.
Improved access to safe, effective birth control is critical to people’s reproductive rights and health. Making a birth control pill available over the counter will help ensure everyone can get the birth control they need, when they need it. That’s part of the future we must fight for, in which everyone has the resources necessary to decide whether to become a parent, and parent the children they decide to have in safe and sustainable communities.
We must fight for a future in which young people across the country also get high-quality sex education that empowers them to make decisions to protect their health. They should have information about sexually transmitted infections, birth control use — including how to negotiate that with partners — gender identity and relationships.
We must fight for a future in which no one stands in the way of someone who has made the decision to end their pregnancy, and everyone has access to high-quality, safe abortion care that they can afford. When a person decides to have a child, they and their family are fully supported with quality pregnancy-related care, paid leave and affordable child care.
We must fight for a future in which no one will be afraid to go to the doctor because of their immigration status and people of color won’t have to face racism when interacting with the medical system. Instead of increasing, maternal mortality will decline and everyone will be able to access information, services and supportive care, regardless of race. The system will be designed to respond to cultural and linguistic differences so that everyone has quality information about all of their health care needs, including effective family planning methods and abortion care.
Every step forward we take is valuable. This vision of the future — where everyone has the power to exercise their human right to live a pleasurable, safe, and healthy sexual and reproductive life — is worth fighting for.