On the surface, I may seem like an unlikely supporter of over the counter birth control pills. I’m 36 years old and a mom of two (fantastic) kids. My husband had a vasectomy six months ago. I’m not even using birth control right now. But, over the counter birth control pills are coming—and I couldn’t be more excited if you offered me a free babysitter for a Friday night.
One thing I know for sure is that I wouldn’t be where I am right now without birth control pills. And yet, I remember those stressful days when, one day before my pill ran out, I begged for a doctor’s appointment in hopes that the doctor would send me home with a free sample pack to get me by while I filled my prescription.
I’ve now dedicated my career to ensuring that women have access to reproductive health care. So I was excited when, in 2015, the Packard Foundation made a substantial investment in over-the-counter oral contraceptives with a grant of $12 million to Ibis Reproductive Health. The five-year grant supports a collaborative effort known as the Oral Contraceptives Over-the-Counter Working Group and its public education campaign, Free the Pill.
At the time, work was well underway, but there was still a long way to go—including establishing a formal partnership with a pharmaceutical company; bringing together folks from across reproductive health, rights, and justice organizations, researchers, and health care providers who share a commitment to making birth control pills available over the counter; and FDA approval. Efforts to bring Emergency Contraceptives to market had prepared us for a long road, and the Packard Foundation was unflinching in its investment.
High-quality contraceptive services require that women have real and meaningful access to a full range of contraceptive options. This means that over the counter access is not just an ideal to strive for, it is an integral part of quality reproductive health care. Importantly, Free the Pill aims to bring to market a pill that is low cost, covered by insurance, and available to people of all ages without a prescription.
Since 2015, eight states have passed coverage of over the counter medications without a prescription, and 13 states have passed pharmacist-prescription of birth control pills. Still, there is more work to be done. While I know we’re on the edge of something great, philanthropy has a role in continuing to support this incredible effort to ensure that over the counter birth control pills become a reality—particularly as reproductive health care across the U.S. is becoming increasingly hard to access.
So, this World Contraception Day, I plan to appreciate everything I have been able to accomplish thanks to birth control pills. I also plan to join #FreeThePill in building toward a future where all people can determine whether and when to have children.