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Reproductive rights groups want to make it easier to prevent pregnancy


As some states move to ban or severely restrict abortion, some reproductive justice advocates want to make sure birth control is more accessible. One strategy is to make the pill available over the counter, which the FDA is going to consider in the coming months. NPR's Allison Aubrey joins us now to talk about it. Hey, Allison.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So the FDA is thinking about making the pill available without a prescription. That would be a big deal.

AUBREY: Possibly. The FDA is being asked to review its first application for an over-the-counter birth control pill. And the reason this is important, Rachel, is that survey research finds about 30% of women say they have faced barriers getting birth control prescriptions or refills. Either they don't have a regular doctor or they don't have insurance, they're hesitant to go - there are many reasons.

I spoke to Dr. Jenny Villavicencio of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. She says the evidence shows over-the-counter options are safe and would be beneficial.

JENNY VILLAVICENCIO: Increasing access to contraception does not solve the big problem that was created by Roe v. Wade being overturned. But I certainly can see there being an urgency to making sure that anyone who wants birth control in this really confusing and chaotic time be able to have access to it, and that means over-the-counter.

AUBREY: She says over-the-counter options aren't meant to replace visits with a health care provider. But one benefit of seeing a provider is actually to go in and understand all of the birth control options out there, the alternatives to daily pills.

MARTIN: Right. So explain what those are.

AUBREY: There are a lot, Rachel. There are IUDs - intrauterine devices - which have become more popular. There's also contraceptive patches worn on the arm or belly or back. There are birth control rings, as well as injectables or shots.

I spoke to Cynthia Harper. She's a contraception researcher at the University of California, San Francisco who says during the pandemic lockdown, more people tried a kind of DIY, self-administered birth control shot that can be prescribed by telemedicine. Basically, you give yourself a shot once every three months. It's a Depo-Provera product and is very safe.

CYNTHIA HARPER: That was a really great option during the pandemic when people were not visiting clinics as often. Now, that's a niche method. Not everyone's going to want it. But that could be good for people in this post-Roe world who might have to travel for care. We have to think of contraceptives that people can get outside of the clinic now. It's really important.

AUBREY: Increasingly, the combination of online companies and telemedicine options may help address barriers, which professor Harper says is key in the post-Roe era. She says she'd also like to see increased awareness of emergency contraception options.

MARTIN: Right. These are the so-called morning-after pills, right?

AUBREY: Exactly. Emergency contraception can be taken after unprotected sex, after a contraception failure or if someone has forgotten to take birth control pills or after a sexual assault. Professor Harper says one common misperception is that it causes infertility, which she says is not true. It's available over the counter. One product is called Plan B.

HARPER: Plan B emergency contraception prevents ovulation, like the birth control pill. So fertilization never happens.

AUBREY: She says this is important because people hold varying beliefs about when pregnancy starts. And since this prevents fertilization, it acts before anyone thinks a pregnancy has started. There is no age restriction or ID required to buy it. A point worth noting is that Plan B and other emergency contraception should be thought of as kind of a backup plan and should not be used as regular birth control.

MARTIN: NPR health correspondent Allison Aubrey. Allison, thank you for all this. We appreciate it.

AUBREY: Thank you, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE ALBUM LEAF'S "BLANK PAGES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.