The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the first birth control pill to be available in the country without a prescription.
When taken daily, Opill (norgestrel) is largely a safe and effective way to prevent pregnancy, according to their ruling. The pill will be available in stores and online by early 2024, according to manufacturer Perrigo Company.
The FDA noted that the move "may reduce barriers to access by allowing individuals to obtain an oral contraceptive without the need to first see a health care provider."
Karen Murry, deputy director of the FDA office of nonprescription drugs, issued a statement further explaining their decision She cited the barriers to birth-control access that currently exist, including income loss from taking off of work, lack of health insurance, lack of healthcare provider access, difficulties with transportation, and general social stigma.
Even before the Supreme Court's decision to overturn abortion rights, healthcare experts from leading organizations, including as the American Medical Association, urged lawmakers to solidify the right to over-the-counter contraception on a national level.
"Access is one of the most cited reasons why patients do not use oral contraceptives, use them inconsistently, or discontinue use," said AMA board member David H. Aizuss. "Expanding OTC access would make it easier for patients to properly use oral contraceptives, leading to fewer unplanned pregnancies."
Most Americans believe that birth control is morally acceptable, according to a Gallup poll. Despite a mixed opinion on abortion rights, the majority of Republican-voting women — 84 percent, according to a poll conducted by OnMessage Inc. in 2022 — still support widespread access to safe contraception. Pro-life voters seem to believe in a clear distinction between preventative measures and abortion, and suggest that contraceptive methods prevent abortion from even being considered.
In May, an FDA panel of 17 scientists unanimously voted that the health benefits of over-the-counter contraception far outweigh the risks.
“For an individual consumer of the product, the risk is very low, and almost nonexistent if they read and follow the labeling," wrote Murry. Cancer-related risks concerning the Opill are "likely outweighed" by the potential risks of unintended pregnancies, she added.
"The evidence demonstrates that the benefits clearly exceed the risks," Kathryn Curtis, a health scientist with the CDC's division of reproductive health. “I think Opill has the potential to have a huge positive public health impact.”