New study confirms people want over-the-counter access to birth control, including progestin-only pills

February 2018

A first-of-its-kind study examining US women’s and teen’s interest in over-the-counter (OTC) access to a progestin-only birth control pill (POP) was published in Women’s Health Issues.  The survey findings show both teens and adults are interested in using an OTC POP.

Key findings from the survey include:

  • Thirty-nine percent (39%) of adults and 29% of teens reported likely use of an over-the-counter POP. If covered by insurance, likelihood of use increased to approximately 46% among adults and 40% among teens.
  • Nearly one in four adults and teens not currently using contraception said they would be interested in using an over-the-counter progestin-only pill.

“For some women, over-the-counter access would be the difference between using birth control and going without,” said Kate Grindlay Kelly, Project Director at Ibis. “Prior research shows that prescription requirements make it more difficult for women to obtain and consistently use birth control pills. Providing over-the-counter access to oral contraceptive pills would help more people take control of their reproductive health needs, without unnecessary barriers—and that could be as revolutionary as the advent of the pill itself.”

In addition, the study findings allay some common concerns about any birth control pill being available over the counter:

A clear majority of women (85%) report they would continue to visit their health care provider to obtain gynecological screenings, such as pap smears.
Among current condom users interested in an over-the-counter POP, a majority of adults (61%) and teens (71%) said they would likely continue to use condoms while using the OTC pill.

“We did this study because it is likely that the first over-the-counter pill formulation in the US will be a progestin-only pill,” said Daniel Grossman, MD, Director, Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) and Professor, Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences, University of California, San Francisco. “All oral birth control pills, including POPs and combined oral contraceptives, which contain both progestin and estrogen, are safe and highly effective at preventing pregnancy. However, POPs are the safest oral contraceptive option for the broadest population. Health conditions that could make POPs less effective or harmful to use are extremely rare.”

“The prescription requirement for birth control pills disproportionately impacts people who already face barriers to care, including young women, low-income women, women of color, and immigrant women,” said Aimee Thorne-Thomsen, Vice President for Strategic Partnerships, Advocates for Youth. “But it is important for an OTC pill to be covered by insurance and available at a low retail price. Over-the-counter access could be transformative in enabling these communities to effectively obtain and use oral contraception, particularly if covered by insurance.”

To read more, view the study or our research brief. To learn more about our work to move a birth control pill over the counter in the United States, visit the project page or