We have celebrated World Contraception Day, a day where people and organizations from around the world come together to advocate for affordable and accessible contraception, since 2007—but for too many young people in the United States, that goal is still just a dream. For low-income young people, young people of color, undocumented young people and disabled young people, in particular, the obstacles to gaining and filling a prescription for birth control can be insurmountable.
I help lead contraceptive access initiatives across the country at Advocates for Youth. Through our work with young people and partner organizations, I’m constantly seeing how prescription requirements and age restrictions place unnecessary burdens on young people attempting to access contraception.
I’m fortunate in that I’ve always had relatively easy access to contraception, because I have health insurance and have had the flexibility to take time away from work and school for doctor’s visits and trips to the pharmacy. But I didn’t realize how simpler things could be until I studied abroad in a country where birth control was available over-the-counter. At the time, I was using a hormonal IUD but was experiencing heavy bleeding between periods. I did some research and found that I could try taking birth control pills for a month in order to regulate my cycle. I walked into a pharmacy without a prescription, talked to the pharmacist for a few minutes and left shortly after with a pack of pills for only a few dollars. When I returned home to the U.S. with dozens of extra birth control pills. I decided to give them to friends who were between contraceptive methods or didn’t have insurance to access birth control on their own.
Talking to other young people, I realized that my experience was incredibly common. I heard stories of aunts bringing years’ supplies of birth control from Jordan, of others stocking up on pills while they visited family in Mexico. I learned that young people all over the country, burdened by our current system, were finding creative ways to get the birth control they needed.
But what if things were easier? What if young people didn’t have to jump through so many hoops to access birth control?
Making birth control pills available over-the-counter would be a tremendous first step towards a future where all young people, regardless of their circumstances, have access to the care they need.
This isn’t a new concept, and it’s actually quite common elsewhere. Birth control is already available over-the-counter in over 100 countries. We also know that birth control pills are incredibly safe and already meet the FDA’s guidelines for over-the-counter sale. Even leading medical groups, like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, support bringing them over-the-counter.
But for over-the-counter contraception to fulfill its revolutionary promise, it has to be available without age restriction. While some may argue young people can’t be trusted with their own medical decisions, I know young people are not only capable of taking care of themselves, they already are. Young people across the country take birth control safely and effectively every day—the same way they take any other medications needed to live their best and healthiest lives. In fact, available information suggests that people of all ages are able to decide what birth control is right for them, and to take it correctly.
This World Contraception Day, let’s commit ourselves to the idea that a better world is possible—in which all young people have access to the contraceptive care they need, regardless of who they are or where they live.
Let’s start by making birth control pills available over-the-counter.