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Doctors call for birth control to be sold over the counter

10:42 AM, Nov 21, 2012   |    comments
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(CBS News) Birth control pills can only be purchased with a doctor's prescription. But on Tuesday, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said the pill should be available over the counter.

In the 1960's, when birth control pills were first approved, only married women could get a prescription.

Now nearly 11 million women in the U.S. are on the pill. Gynecologist Dan Grossman's research led to Tuesday's recommendation that oral contraceptives be made available over the counter to reduce the risk of unwanted pregnancies.

"We have over 50 years of experience with oral contraceptives now ," he said, "and it's one of the best-studied medications that's around, so we know that it's incredibly safe."

About half of all pregnancies are unintended, a rate that has not changed in 20 years. Nearly five million women considered at-risk for an unintended pregnancy do not use any kind of birth control.

"Women who aren't currently using any contraception or are using a less effective method might start using the pill," said Grossman. "And also, it could make the pill easier to get for women who are already taking it and prevent gaps in use."

Ann Mahan is a registered nurse and director of the student health clinic at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. She has concerns the recommendation.

"I can see a lot of chaos resulting from birth control pills being over the counter," she said.

She's worried that a lack of oversight could lead to misuse or increase the risk for side-effects such as blood clots.

"We need to have that contact with our patients," said Mahan, "and we need to be able to monitor their health. And the only way to do that is to have birth control pills stay a prescriptive item."

But the report cites evidence that women can effectively screen themselves for risk factors, such as smoking and hypertension. And when the pill was available over the counter, women were just as likely to use it correctly as those who received a prescription.

The Food and Drug Administration is already looking at ways to increase access to certain drugs, including oral contraceptives. Among the possibilities under discussion -- a one-time prescription, or even making drugs available through automated screenings at electronic kiosks.

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