A new study from reproductive health researchers in Oakland, CA finds that the majority of countries ease women’s access to reproductive health services by making birth control pills available over the counter. The United States is one of 45 countries that still require women to obtain a prescription for oral contraceptives.
The lead researcher of the study, Dr. Daniel Grossman, noted that a pattern emerged along economic lines — perhaps because countries that tend to have residents with lower incomes have invested more in family planning services:
“The patterns we saw were interesting,” said Grossman. “Higher income countries — western Europe, Australia, Japan and North America — generally require a prescription.”
Grossman told Reuters Health he couldn’t explain why these patterns have emerged.
“Perhaps in places like China and India that have pills available over-the-counter formally without a prescription might be consistent with strong national family planning programs,” he speculated.
But ensuring robust family planning programs and accessible contraceptive services is a smart economic policy for wealthier countries as well. Women here in the U.S. report that having readily available access to birth control is essential to helping them achieve their economic goals, since family planning resources allow them to delay having children until they are financially prepared to support dependents. And studies show that eliminating barriers to effective forms of contraception lowers the rates of unintended pregnancy — which cost taxpayers an estimated 11 billion dollars annually in public insurance coverage.
New guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that the U.S. amend its policy to allow women to purchase birth control pills without a prescription. Oral contraceptives are the most popular form of birth control, but the outdated practice of requiring women to visit the doctor to obtain a prescription leads some women to take their pills less regularly and compromise the method’s effectiveness.