For many people in the United States, access to birth control may become easier.
Family planning has long been a multi-layered conversation within the United States. Currently, there are over 57 Planned Parenthood independent local affiliate clinics across the United States, each a champion to helping women continue to have agency over their bodies.
Their work is especially relevant when looking at statistics on unplanned pregnancies. According to the CDC, the rate of unintended pregnancies was 45% between 2009 and 2013.
A breakdown of most unplanned pregnancies shows that the most at-risk demographics are those whose access to birth control and family planning is limited, either due to access or cost. In a study conducted by the Commission on Unintended Pregnancy, a division of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at the Institute of Medicine, a profile of women most at-risk of such pregnancies has been established. Women between the ages of 18 and 29, the range during which woman are most fertile, who have begun sexual activity and are too young to seek sterilization make up the women most at-risk for an unintended pregnancy.
In an effort to help lower these rates, Ibis Reproductive Health, an international nonprofit research organization for reproductive health, has partnered with a French pharmaceutical company, HRA Pharma, with the goal of conducting the research needed to submit an application to the FDA to make a progestin contraceptive pill available over the counter.
“Too many people in the United States face barriers to accessing the contraceptive methods they want,” Ibis representatives stated in a press release regarding the partnership. “Our coalition is committed to conducting the research and advocacy to ensure any over-the-counter method is covered by health insurance and available to everyone who needs it.”
While the conversation of an over the counter birth control pill has frequently been cited as a method to further lower the number of unintended pregnancies, the barriers of creation for said birth control pill are high. The process would entail a pharmaceutical company both creating and getting the drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Ibis is taking this next step as an extension to the work they’ve already been a part of. For the last 10 years, Ibis has been a part of the Oral Contraceptives Over-the-Counter Working Group. This coalition of advocates, researchers and health care providers seeks to acquire evidence and build a case in favor of making an over the counter birth control pill.
According to Vox, it will still be a few years before the FDA can begin its approval for the over the counter pill, but the process of bringing this oral contraceptive to the U.S market is already underway.
Ibis and HRA Pharma decided to create a progestin-only pill because they believe that it will present the fewest barriers for the greater public. Unlike pills that have a combination of progestin and estrogen, progestin-only pills do not have the potential to cause problems for women who smoke or have high blood pressure. In addition, Ibis president Kelly Blanchard told Vox it will likely be easier to get the progestin-only oral contraceptive approved as the FDA has already approved emergency contraception, which is a progestin pill. Once this first birth control method is approved, it shouldn’t be hard to get other forms of birth control approved as well, which will allow for over the counter contraceptives to be inclusive for all women.
Ibis’ steps toward an over-the-counter birth control pill comes with many questions. Since it is still unknown how much the pill will cost and whether insurance will cover it, it is still possible that the women who have been historically unable to afford and access contraception may still be unable utilize the over the counter pill. In addition, birth control pills can come with side effects, some of which may not be known until Ibis moves forward with their research and development.