Should birth control pills be sold over the counter?

Published On: Nov 21 2012 06:04:57 PM CST   Updated On: Nov 21 2012 07:35:05 PM CST
LA CROSSE, Wis. -- -

Millions of women count on birth control pills to help prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Right now it requires a prescription from your doctor but a group of medical experts is recommending that policy be changed.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists announced this week it thinks birth control pills should be sold over the counter.

While they admit the change could bring some challenges, they said the benefits outweigh the risks.

For some, having birth control available over the counter is a matter of freedom.

"I think it's really important for women to have the same sexual freedom as men do and I think it should be available to anyone," said La Crescent resident Meredith Knowles.

"Condoms are available for men, so why wouldn't women have that same option?" said La Crescent resident Kathy Hollon.

But the main reason the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is recommending oral contraceptives be sold over the counter is to cut down on unplanned pregnancies.

"Half of all pregnancies, if you look at every age group, half of all pregnancies are unplanned," said Gundersen Lutheran Dr. Ken Merkitch.

But that's not the only reason, health experts said the pills have a variety of other health benefits for women.

"It helps prevent cancer of the ovaries. It helps prevent cancer of the uterus. Many women have very painful periods or heavy periods, it's a very effective treatment for this, so the benefits definitely outweigh the risks," said Merkitch.

So what are the risks?

"The concern is that women who have certain health risks that might increase the risk of complications for birth control pills, so let's say they have high blood pressure, lets say they have a history of migraines, with an aura where they get loss of vision or things like that, women with a history of blood clots, these things are women who shouldn't be on birth control pills. The concern is if you allow those over the counter that perhaps some of those women would use it and have trouble because of it," said Merkitch.

But some said it's a risk that's up to each woman to pay attention to.

"I think those are risks you take with any medication you take over the counter, so I think the responsibility falls to those who are buying it," said Hollon.

Another concern is that women will not come in for other important health screenings if they can just get their birth control pills over the counter.

But health experts say research shows that offering the pill without a prescription does not keep women from staying up to date on their exams.

Birth control pills are currently sold over the counter in more than 30 countries.