This important new study from R Street Institute highlights the various ways states are trying to deregulate hormonal birth controls. The report examines how limited availability (in rural areas), a lack of insurance coverage (for low-income women) and a lack of convenience (for women who struggle to make, keep, or pay for doctor's visits to get prescriptions) can make it difficult to access these drugs.
There are many ways to deregulate birth control, but the most popular so far is the pharmacy-access model, where states can allow pharmacists to write prescriptions (instead of just doctors) so women can walk into a pharmacy and walk out with pills in hand. Ten states, ranging from politically blue to purple to red have implemented this model with success.
Ultimately, it would be helpful to women if the pill was made available over-the-counter, which would require a change in FDA (federal) policy. As I've written before, it's ironic — and bad policy — that emergency contraception (like the "Plan B" morning-after pill) is available without a prescription, but the traditional "Plan A" birth control pill is not.
It may go without saying, but deregulating birth control would make it easier and more affordable for the millions of women who choose to use this drug to help them avoid pregnancy (and for other health-related reasons). The arguments against making birth control OTC fall flat: There are risks related to taking the pill, but this does not make it different from other OTC medicines. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynocologists favor making the pill OTC, recognizing that women are very good at self-screening and determining which kind to use and how.
Making the pill available OTC would have another advantage: It might help calm some of the culture wars associated with insurance coverage for these drugs.
Earlier this month, the Department of Health and Human Services expanded the exemptions for employers who have a religious objection to birth control, essentially expanding the Supreme Court's ruling in Hobby Lobby (which only applied to closely-held corporations) to large corporations and also allowing for a non-religious moral objection for smaller employers and non-profits.
This is common sense. No employer should be forced to provide coverage for something he or she finds morally objectionnable. No employer should be forced to provide health insurance of any kind, period.
If more women could access birth control on their own, either over or behind the pharmacy counter, this might take some of the tension out of the debate about employer coverage. As women, we should be free to buy birth control for ourselves. And we are. Our bodies? Our responsibility.