This week the BBC presented the argument of a general practitioner in the UK who believes the new pilot program in London, that will provide the Pill over-the-counter, will not solve the country’s problem of unintended pregnancies and thus should not be executed. Instead, Sarah Jarvis, a women’s health spokeswomen for the Royal College of GPs, believes young women should use long-term contraceptives, such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) as a means to curb the country’s relatively high rate of teenage pregnancies.

I would agree that the safety of IUDs has improved tremendously over the past decades and that they could now be an acceptable method of birth control for women who have not yet had children but would like to in the future. However, even though providing the Pill over-the-counter may not be a magic bullet, it is still an important step to removing unnecessary barriers restricting access to comprehensive contraception. If the pilot program in London is successful, oral contraceptives will be offered over-the-counter throughout the country and available to all women over the age of 16.

I applaud the UK’s efforts to progress beyond the outdated system that requires a prescription for the medication. In the US, we have seen steps in the opposition direction with the spread of “Pro-Life” pharmacies that refuse to distribute the morning after pill (which is available in the US OTC) or hormonal contraceptives for ideological reasons. Perhaps in a country like the UK where there is a national public health care system and a more accepting view of contraceptives, access and affordability are not major barriers to curbing unmet need for birth control methods. But for young women in the US, especially those without health insurance, providing the Pill without a prescription could be a major step in reducing unintended pregnancies in this demographic.

There are a few societal misconceptions that present barriers to the Pill’s potential to be offered over-the-counter. One is the idea that the pill can be a dangerous medication and thus its distribution needs to be monitored closely by a physician. In truth, as a professor at Berkeley once told me, the Pill is safer than Tylenol, and several other over-the-counter drugs for that matter. Moreover, while it is important your doctor should be aware if you on hormonal contraceptives because of potential drug interactions, your doctor would also like to know if you take a multi-vitamin.

Another frequent expectation, and the main argument of Sarah Jarvis against the drug being available without a prescription, is that young women are too irresponsible to take the pill as directed and thus the drug’s effectiveness decreases with less-than-perfect usage. If you forget to take a pill, the drug will not prevent pregnancy 99% of the time, but it will be a whole lot more effective than no birth control at all. More importantly perhaps, the idea that all young women are irresponsible and thus should not have access to vital medications is degrading and offensive. I know countless numbers of young women who are exceptionally responsible and could entirely handle the task of remembering to take a pill when they brush their teeth in the morning.

To me, the prospect of the UK distributing the Pill without unnecessary barriers is exciting and I can only hope that someday the US will follow suit.

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