A new report published in the Journal of Adolescent Health examining decades of research has concluded that access to oral contraceptives — the pill — should not require a prescription. In particular the study has found that teenagers are fully capable of mastering the art of preventing pregnancy by taking a pill each day. The report, from Johns Hopkins University, cites years of studies that have shown that earlier access to oral contraceptives decreases the incidence of teenage pregnancy.
The CDC estimated for 2012 that about 11 million women in the U.S. are on the pill, making it the most popular form of birth control. When taken as directed, it is more than 90 percent effective, and previous studies have suggested that it can be safely dispensed under direction of a pharmacist and without a prescription. Serious side effects are rare, though it has been linked to a relative rise in risk of depression in women. Many large countries, including India and China, already sell birth control over the counter. The American College of Obstetrics endorsed over-the-counter birth control sale in 2012.
In January, French pharmaceutical company HRA Pharma announced that it was partnering with U.S. non-profit Ibis Reproductive Health to begin the application process for over-the-counter birth control. Only two states — California and Oregon — currently allow birth control to be dispensed without a prescription in the United States. HRA Pharma expects that process to take several years.
Teenage pregnancy has declined drastically in recent years, reaching an all-time low in 2014, with just under 250,000 babies born to women between the ages of 15 to 19. The teenage birth rate has declined for seven years in a row, and most reports attribute the declines partially to access to birth control for young women.