For the first time ever, birth control pills may become available without a prescription.
On Wednesday, a panel of outside advisors to the Food and Drug Administration voted unanimously that the benefits of the pill being available outweigh the potential risks. The FDA will now decide over the summer whether or not to approve it for sale, but they are not beholden to the panel's decision.
Expanding access to the drug -- Opill -- would severely benefit women in rural communities and those without healthcare, taking away many of the barriers that exist around receiving contraception.
During the panel's deliberations, Dr. Carolyn Westhoff, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, said that the pill would particularly benefit younger women, as they "faced most significant barriers to accessing the more effective methods.”
“Despite availability of a variety of contraceptive methods, nearly half of the pregnancies are unintended every year,” she said. “We need more effective methods to be available without a prescription.”
Opill is known as a "mini pill," as it only contains the pregnancy-preventing hormone progestin, as opposed to including both progestin and addition estrogen for users. According to Dr. Daniel Grossman, a professor of obstetrics gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of California San Francisco, both pills are equally effective at preventing pregnancy with a 93 percent success rate, but progestin-only pills have a lower chance of causing blood clots.
Some officials expressed skepticism at the ability of women to follow the instructions of the pill — which must be taken once a day at the same time — and their ability to abstain from sex if they forget to take it. Dr. Anna Glasier, a British reproductive health expert who testified on behalf of Opill's maker, dispelled any concerns.
“Let’s face it — the instructions for Opill use are extremely simple: Take one pill, at the same time every day,” she said. “The vast majority of women did just that. And if they made a mistake, most took the appropriate mitigating action. And let’s remember that the women who did miss pills often did so because they could only get a supply from the site where they had enrolled, while in the real world situation, they could have bought a pill from any drugstore.”