Birth control pills should be available over-the-counter to decrease the rate of unintended pregnancy, the American Congress of Obstetricians and and Gynecologists (ACOG) said Tuesday.
Half of all pregnancies are unplanned, resulting in $11 billion in costs to taxpayers each year, according to Dr. Kavita Nanda, co-author of a statement by the group and a scientist at the nonprofit research group FHI 360.
Nanda said surveys show that women would be more likely to use the pill if it were available over the counter.
A statement from the ACOG reads, in part:
Unintended pregnancy remains a major public health problem in the United States. Access and cost issues are common reasons why women either do not use contraception or have gaps in use. A potential way to improve contraceptive access and use, and possibly decrease unintended pregnancy rates, is to allow over-the-counter access to oral contraceptives.
Oral contraceptives currently require a prescription in the United States, but University of California professor Diana Greene Foster, who studies the issue, told Reuters Health that studies show that making birth control pills available over the counter "would result in better access and fewer unintended pregnancies."
"I want it between the condoms and pregnancy test kits," Kirsten Moore, president and CEO of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, a group advocating for reproductive freedom, told CNN. "I want it there so it's giving the message: if you're sexually active, use protection."
One of the concerns about over-the-counter access is that the pill carries a small, increased risk of developing a potentially dangerous blood clot. But the risk of these clots is even greater during pregnancy.
"The pill is incredibly safe," Dr. Dan Grossman, vice president for research at Ibis Reproductive Health told Reuters Health. "I don't have any safety concerns."
But Grossman said that cost could become an issue, as it did when Plan B, or emergency contraception became available over the counter. Costs increased to $50 for one-time use, he said, noting that if a daily pill cost that much, "I don't think we would see the hoped-for increased use because the cost would create another barrier."
Although Obamacare — the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — will make women with health insurance eligible to receive birth control pills without additional co-payments, whether that would apply to over-the-counter pills is unclear, according to Reuters.
The Federal Drug Administration would have to make the change, but (Foster) said the ACOG statement would be influential.
"It is a pretty bold move on the part of ACOG," Grossman told CNN. "I really respect that the organization decided to make this statement after reviewing all the evidence. It's not very common where you hear a physician organization say, 'We think there should be a change so that our patients don't have to see us anymore.' "