FDA Approves Over-the-Counter Birth Control Pills


FDA Approves Over-the-Counter Birth Control Pills

July 17, 2023
An image of the Opill box.

Last week the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the progestin-only birth control pill, Opill, for over-the-counter (OTC) access without an age restriction. In a time when so much of the news around reproductive health has involved attacks on access, this is a welcome update that will greatly increase access to birth control for those who need it.

So, what does this mean practically? Here are the five questions we’ve heard most and our answers. 

What are OTC birth control pills?

Getting the birth control pill over the counter means that anyone can buy it without ever talking to a health care provider. The pill will be available right off the shelf at the drug store and other retail locations, probably next to the condoms and the lube. Other than how it’s obtained, there is no difference between Opill and other brands of birth control pills. They work the same way; it’s a pill that folks take once a day that works by releasing hormones to prevent pregnancy before it starts. The birth control pill is NOT an abortion pill, and it’s NOT emergency contraception either.

Why do we need OTC birth control pills?

Over-the-counter birth control pills are a great thing for a number of reasons. First, buying birth control pills OTC means that people can start and stop using them on their own, allowing more control to prevent pregnancy on their own terms. Second, getting the pill OTC could save time and money since folks won’t have to see a health care provider to get a prescription. Third, OTC birth control pills open up access for everyone, but especially for those in contraceptive deserts — counties where people in need of publicly funded contraceptive care lack reasonable access to a clinic that provides the full range of contraceptive methods.

Are all birth control pills going to be available over the counter?

At the moment only one brand pill, Opill, has been approved for sale over the counter without a prescription. Opill is a progestin-only birth control pill, or mini-pill. Mini-pills are taken at the same time every day, and release a small amount of progestin into the body to prevent pregnancy. Opill doesn’t have estrogen in it, so pretty much anyone can use it safely. There is another type and brand of birth control pill that contains estrogen and progestin that is going through the process to become available OTC, but it may be a few more years before that happens.

Are OTC birth control pills available today?

No, not yet. While Opill was approved for sale over the counter, it’s not yet available in stores. Now that it’s approved, the manufacturers have to get to work to make it affordable and accessible for everyone. We don’t know yet when it’ll be available (or exactly how much it’ll cost), but you can follow @PowertoDecide on social for updates on OTC pills (and more!).

Where are birth control pills available today?

There are many birth control options accessible right now, including ones that are already available OTC without a prescription and ones you can order and have delivered to your door. Plus, folks can still get a prescription for birth control pills from a health care provider. Bedsider’s method explorer is a great place to learn about all the birth control options.