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Physicians make compelling case for birth control over the counter

Dec 6, 2012 - By The Seattle Times

Women's health groups long have advocated for making oral contraceptives available over the counter. Their argument received a significant boost this month from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, whose physicians issued an opinion affirming the benefits of providing pills without a prescription outweighed the risks.

The pharmaceutical companies' participation is needed to begin a robust public-education campaign around a topic that is easily misunderstood.

The various brands available now through prescription will not be accessible over the counter anytime soon without Food and Drug Administration approval. Many women cannot afford the cost of birth control or the doctor's visit necessary to access the different methods sold on the market.

One consequence is that half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended, according to the ACOG. That figure hasn't changed in 20 years.

The cost to society and taxpayers is high. In Washington state, for instance, Medicaid pays for more than 40 percent of births statewide. When children are born into poverty, they are at a higher risk for suffering health and developmental problems.

Research has shown that women who access birth control easily are more likely to use it consistently.

Other forms of contraceptives, including intrauterine devices and shots, are not part of this equation. But after decades of study, birth-control pills have proved to be a common, cost-effective method for many.

No drug is without risk, not even aspirin. Do we trust women to follow instructions? Are they capable of detecting adverse side effects and seeking help if they need it? The ACOG's decision was based on evidence that suggests they are.

In recent news reports, the FDA has signaled a willingness to explore the issue, even if no drugmakers have publicly expressed interest.

They must consider cost, whether the insured would still be covered and the role of pharmacists.

The bottom line is that access to family planning is essential to ensure children in Washington are born when their parents are ready.

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