Birth Control in 2014: The Goodies and The Bullies

Reflecting back on what happened with birth control in the last 12 months, there were many goodies worth celebrating…hooray! Unfortunately, there were some big time birth control bullies too…boo! Here’s a quick reflection on the most notable of each.

Birth Control in 2014 Goodies Bullies Choose ControlGoodies

1. More women using highly effective methods. We saw a big jump in the use of highly effective methods of birth control, also known as long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARC). Among women using birth control, only 2% were using LARC in 2002 but that’s up to nearly 12% in 2011-2013. Both teens and adult women alike are now choosing these methods over other options more than ever before. Most women still use the pill, which is very effective if taken correctly and consistently, followed by condoms. LARC comes in at 3rd favorite. We are all on the edge of our seats to see if this leads to fewer unplanned pregnancies and abortions.

2. Generic versions of Plan B One Step approved. The FDA approved several generic versions of Plan B One-Step. This means more options when it comes to emergency contraception. The brand Plan B One-Step product is still on the shelf, so now women can choose between spending $50 on that or go with one of the less expensive generic products ($40 for My Way, Levonorgestrel, Take Action, or Next Choice). The least expensive product (AfterPill) is available online for $25 a dose. This is a great option for anyone who wants to keep a dose at home in case it’s needed later.

3. Birth control being developed for men. Men have been limited to vasectomies and condoms for pretty much ever. That list may grow much longer to include pills, gels, injections, and even implants in the future. Indonesia is studying a natural compound as a birth control pill for men. While no new methods hit the market in 2014, we’ve got lots of great options in the works. In the meantime, an elastic prophylactic (better known as a condom) will have to do for most.

4. Californians can get birth control at the pharmacy without a prescription. California approved a law that expands pharmacists’ scope of practice to include providing some birth control methods directly to patients without a prescription. That means women in California will be able to get the pill, patch, ring, and depot injection at their local pharmacy soon. The protocol is being finalized now and this new service should be available in the next few months. This is a BIG DEAL! California will be the first state with this expanded access, which is the closest to over-the-counter. More to come on this when we get closer to this being a reality.

5. More support for over-the-counter access to the pill. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists just released an expert opinion on access to birth control reinforcing their statement of support for over-the-counter birth control. Many other professional associations and advocacy organizations are behind this expanded access too. Want to know more about over-the-counter birth control? Check out the Free the Pill websiteTwitter, or Facebook page.

6. Improving consumer and healthcare provider knowledge of emergency contraception. Senator Murray along with her consponsors introduced the Emergency Contraception Access and Education Act of 2014. If passed, two things would happen: First, hospitals* would be required to give sexual assault victims medically accurate information about emergency contraception and promptly offer emergency contraception regardless of the victim’s ability to pay for this service. Second, there would be educational programs about emergency contraception directed at both the public and healthcare providers. Ask your senators to support this bill. *This would be required of hospitals receiving federal funds.

There have been lots of efforts to increase awareness about emergency contraception methods and availability. I helped create a guide to access to emergency contraception for pharmacists and other pharmacy staff members. Bedsider.org has awesome resources like this chart comparing methods of emergency contraception.

Bullies

1. Corporations can have religious beliefs. And impose those beliefs to restrict the health care options of their employees. But only when it comes to birth control and abortions. This doesn’t make any sense but the Supreme Court of the United States made it so. Tens of other companies are now following in Hobby Lobby footsteps to fight the birth control benefit of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This GIFs-planation explains how we went from celebrating the birth control benefit — a major goodie — to being bullied by “religious corporations.”

2. Republicans support over-the-counter birth control for the wrong reasons. Their reason: so it’s no longer covered by insurance. But birth control will need to be covered by insurance to be sure there’s access. Since the Affordable Care Act benefit kicked in, we’ve already seen a shift in women using more effective methods that were cost-prohibitive before (see goodie #1). Over-the-counter birth control would make it much more convenient for women (see goodie #5) but insurance coverage means ALL women can benefit. Dr. Dan Grossman, MD, MPH explains the issues in this LA Times Op-Ed.

3. Counterfeit birth control. Untrustworthy retailers began selling emergency contraception on Amazon.com this year. The unbelievably low price was the first red flag. We don’t know whether these products were counterfeit, stolen, or illegitimate for some other reason. But we can’t trust them either. RH Reality Check published a great article warning buyers to beware. The FDA also has posted information on the dangers of buying medications online and warning consumers to be wary. As if there aren’t enough barriers to birth control without adding this to the list.

I’m glad to see there are more goodies in my list than bullies. I’m optimistic about what 2015 will bring and hope you’ll join me by using your voices and votes to promote progress.

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