Should the Pill Be Sold Over the Counter?

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After the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said recently that birth control pills should be available without a prescription, a new survey shows that in most countries, they are.

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After obtaining information from 147 countries, researchers found that prescriptions for birth control pills are needed in only 31 percent (including the U.S., Canada, and many European countries). In 38 percent of countries, the pill is available over the counter despite formal laws to the contrary. In 24 percent of countries, it's legally available without a prescription, and in 8 percent of countries, a screening is required instead of a prescription. The research will be published in the journal Contraception.

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Advocates of over-the-counter birth control are hoping that the data will show that women can screen themselves for risk factors for the Pill.

"We can start to use this information to… get a sense of the safety of women having access to this method where no prescription is required," Kari White, who studies birth control at the University of Alabama in Birmingham but was not involved in the study, told Reuters.

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Despite the opinion of ACOG, getting access to over-the-counter birth control in the U.S. is a long way off, experts say. Although the Pill is generally considered safe (arguably it has a similar set of risks as aspirin and acetaminophen), the FDA would first have to approve it. And Dr. Daniel Grossman, who worked on the survey and is an advocate for over-the-counter access, told USA Today that he doesn't know of any drug companies that have started that process.

In the meantime, Grossman hopes that the data will be helpful to countries interested in wider access to birth control.

"Will this information about the availability of pills being over-the-counter in other countries influence policy here? Probably not," Grossman told Reuters Health. "But I do think it helps to put it in perspective that this is not something revolutionary."

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