DC considers making birth control pills available OTC

Washington, D.C., lawmakers are considering a bill that will make birth control pills, patches, and vaginal rings available to consumers without prescriptions. Councilman David Cantania introduced the bill, which has the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) scratching its head on how the process will work if the bill is passed into law. No such forms of contraception are legally available over-the-counter in the United States. Pilot programs to test the sale of nonprescription birth control in Seattle and Portland, Ore., have been discontinued.

The FDA does not regulate over-the-counter medications as it does prescription drugs, which raises safety concerns first and foremost. Birth control pills already carry risks that women should be aware of, including the formation of  blood clots. Women who smoke and those with a family history of blood clots are at an even greater risk for developing blood clots, which can lead to life threatening conditions such as heart attacks, strokes and pulmonary emboli.

There is also no word on which pills would be made available without prescription. Pills offer a variety of single or combination hormone options, and some even include diuretics or are fortified with vitamins. Some may put women at even greater risk for serious side effects, such as the blockbuster birth control Yaz, manufactured by Bayer. The company is currently facing more than 2,000 lawsuits from women who claim they were injured by Yaz.

The FDA says one of the biggest benefits to keeping oral contraception a prescribed product is that for many women getting a birth control prescription is the motivating factor in getting them to the doctor for their annual exam. If birth control pills suddenly became available over-the-counter, many woman may forego seeing their doctors altogether.