Nearly 60 years after the Food and Drug Administration approved the birth control pill, women and health activists across America are campaigning to make the oral contraceptive truly accessible to all.
Using #FreeThePill, people took to social platforms including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to call on the government to make the pill available over the counter, without the need for a prescription.
“#FreeThePill because a) women shouldn’t be subjected to outdated, patronising, clinically unnecessary consultations to access their repro rights b) they shouldn’t have to go on a wild goose chase to find it at a reasonable price & c) because you can buy viagra over the counter…” Twitter user, Rebecca Blaylock said.
“There are a lot of extra costs that come with getting a prescription for birth control including a doctor’s visit, missing work and transportation. We could #FreeThePill and make it available over the counter,” tweeted Steph Synoracki, who works at Ibis Reproductive Health, the international non-profit that initiated the day of activism.
The organization chose May 9 to coincide with the 59th anniversary of the day the FDA approved the an oral contraceptive as being safe to use.
Although the pill is widely available, the United States is among some 20 countries that require a prescription in order to get a monthly supply of the pill. The brand and how frequently you can get it depends on what type of insurance you have and how much you’re willing to pay.
Pharmacies will often give you a generic version of the drug but charge more for a specific brand, which in turn, may cause a variety of side effects. Add to that the doctor’s visits that are required to maintain your prescription plus an annual cervical smear - and the time and costs add up.
“Young people face a lot of barriers to getting the health care they need and getting contraceptives over the counter is one way to tackle that,” says Rebecca Thimmesch from the sexual health non-profit, Advocates for Youth.
“It also allows for a confidentiality and allows young people to have agency and autonomy over their reproductive health.”
The movement has wide support from organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Family Physicians, but the politics are messy. The Trump administration wants to overturn the Affordable Health Act - a law that requires insurance plans to provide contraception free of charge.
It also comes amid a national conversation over women’s rights as several states propose laws that would virtually ban abortion. Just last week, Georgia approved a bill that would ban abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be detected – a law that the American Civil Liberties Union says it will challenge in court.
“Although unplanned pregnancies are on the decline in the Unites States, they are still higher here than in other developed countries,” says sex education expert Lucinda Holt, adding that access to the pill over the counter would help push those numbers down further.