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Research project

Moving Oral Contraceptives Over-the-Counter in the US

Oral contraceptives (OCs) are one of the most widely used and effective methods of birth control available worldwide. They are one of the best-studied and safest medications on the market today, yet in most of North America and Western Europe a prescription is required to obtain them. This can be a barrier for some women seeking birth control, particularly those without easy access to a clinician.

To address this barrier, ANSIRH participates in the Oral Contraceptives (OCs) Over-the-Counter (OTC) Working Group, which leverages research and advocacy efforts to advance evidence-based policy with the aim of improving access to contraception and reducing disparities in reproductive health outcomes by making a low-cost OC product available OTC in the United States. The working group is currently focused on a progestin-only pill, as the first OTC OC product.

Convened by Ibis Reproductive Health, the OCs OTC Working Group is a coalition of reproductive health, justice, and rights organizations, clinicians, and researchers who share a commitment to providing all women of reproductive age easier access to safe, effective, acceptable, and affordable contraceptives. The OC OTC Working Group supports research, hosts regular convenings of its members, and works with advocacy partners to disseminate evidence demonstrating the value of over the counter access to oral contraceptives.

Through its dissemination efforts, the working group has garnered considerable support for an OTC switch for OCs from women’s health and reproductive justice advocates and leading medical societies, and has also sparked interest among pharmaceutical companies. To learn more about this project or to stay up-to-date with research developments, please visit the Ibis project page, the OCs OTC Working Group website, or Free the Pill.

Previous research conducted by Drs. Diana Greene Foster and Daniel Grossman demonstrates that interest in over-the-counter access to oral contraception is high among current and future oral contraceptive users. In 2010 and 2011, ANSIRH researchers administered an anonymous survey in family planning and abortion clinics waiting rooms and found that 81% of women supported over-the-counter access to oral contraceptives. In addition, a third of women who were not planning to use a method said they would be more likely to use oral contraceptives, and potentially dramatically reduce their risk of unintended pregnancy, if they were available over-the-counter (Grindlay, 2014).

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ANSIRH is a program within the UCSF Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health and is a part of UCSF's Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences.

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