Over-the-counter birth control may soon be available at U.S. pharmacies, as Paris-based drugmaker HRA Pharma announced Monday that it has applied to the FDA for authorization of Opill, which has been available on a prescription-only basis since 1973.
Opill would be the first-ever daily birth control available at pharmacies in the U.S. and could be widely available by 2023. Oral contraceptives became available with a prescription in 1960.
The move by HRA Pharma comes as abortion rights and contraceptives have become hot-button issues in 2022 after the Supreme Court overturned the landmark decision Roe v. Wade.
“Moving a safe and effective prescription birth control pill to [over the counter] will help even more women and people access contraception without facing unnecessary barriers,” Frederique Welgryn, Chief Strategic Operations and Innovation Officer at HRA Pharma, said in a press release.
Welgryn told the New York Times that the timing of the FDA approval for Opill was “a really sad coincidence.”
Every indication suggests that various laws and legal battles will also contest the right to birth control. On Friday, President Joe Biden issued an executive order to help protect birth control access in the U.S., though some say the order did not go far enough.
Around 6.1 million unintended pregnancies occur in the U.S. every year. Nearly a third of those who try getting a prescription for contraception pills, patches, or rings report difficulty doing so.
Removing a prescription requirement “would improve access to a contraceptive method that is well tolerated and notably more effective at preventing pregnancy than all current methods available [over the counter].”
Birth control, no matter how effective, is not a replacement for comprehensive and widely available abortion and reproductive care.
“Birth control is not a solution for abortion access,” Welgryn told the Times.
Many major medical organizations — the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Family Physicians — support over-the-counter birth control pills.
No drug is risk-free, and professionals recommend continuing consultations with a doctor before taking any birth control and still making regular doctor visits regardless of whether a prescription is necessary. Another problem could be that over-the-counter birth control could become more expensive as insurance companies do not have to cover it under the current laws.