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Attorney General Ellison urges FDA approve country's first over-the-counter birth-control pill

November 4, 2022 (SAINT PAUL) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced today he is joining a coalition of 20 attorneys general in submitting a letter urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve over-the-counter birth control bills that meet applicable safety and efficacy standards, including approving a pending application for the nation’s first over-the-counter (OTC) pill. If approved, safe and effective birth control pills will become available for purchase over the counter, removing barriers that currently keep many people from being able to access safe and timely reproductive care. In the letter, Attorney General Ellison and the coalition of attorneys general argue that approval of the pill would allow people — especially those from low-income communities and communities of color, who have less access to insurance and face more barriers in obtaining reproductive healthcare — greater control over their health, lives, and futures, and would help them avoid the health and economic perils that come with unwanted pregnancies.

In the letter, Attorney General Ellison and the coalition note that in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturning the 49-year Roe v. Wade precedent earlier this year, many states have banned or restricted abortion care, narrowing the choices for those seeking reproductive care. This makes expanding access to birth control nationwide even more urgent, including for Minnesotans who may be living, working, studying, or traveling in anti-abortion states.

Expanding access to birth control is also urgent because Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas suggested in his concurring opinion in Dobbs that the Court should overturn its own 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut decision that guarantees the right to birth control.

“We must do everything we can to expand people’s freedom to make their own decisions about their own bodies — and keep government out of it,” Attorney General Ellison said. “At a time when our most fundamental rights and freedoms are under attack, I am proud to call on the FDA to make the common-sense choice to join the American medical community and the rest of the world by making safe, effective birth control available over the counter. Our entire society and economy will benefit when Americans have more control over their bodies and their reproductive freedom, not less — and when these decisions are in people’s hands, not in the hands of six out-of-touch, activist Supreme Court justices. The FDA must act as soon as it possibly can.”

Attorney General Ellison and the coalition general also point out in the letter that the medical community supports approving an OTC birth control pill. Three major medical organizations in the United States — The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Family Physicians — support making birth control available without prescription. Moreover, birth control pills are already available over the counter in approximately 100 countries, including Mexico.

The FDA is currently reviewing an application to approve a birth control pill, named Opill, for OTC use. If approved, people in need of birth control would be able to walk into a pharmacy and buy it without a prescription, making it the first-ever birth control pill that people can buy OTC.

In their open letter to the FDA, Attorney General Ellison and the attorneys general assert that the FDA should approve the pill for OTC use because:

• It would remove barriers to obtaining birth control faced by many. Researchers say one-third of adults in the U.S. who have ever tried to obtain prescription contraception have reported facing challenges, such as getting an appointment, having to travel for clinic visits, or navigating restrictions on the amount they can buy monthly. Further, one-third of birth-control users say they have missed taking their birth control because they could not get their next supply in time. An OTC birth-control pill would remove many of these challenges and make it less likely for people to be forced to go through unwanted pregnancies due to circumstances outside their control.

• It would provide critical help to people from vulnerable populations. Barriers to accessing birth control disproportionately harm people of color, low-income families, and individuals living in rural areas, who are more often uninsured or underinsured, and thus find it harder to get the reproductive care they need. OTC options would go a long way in reducing these inequities and making the healthcare system fairer and more accessible for all. The benefits of such a system include lower maternal mortality rates, less poverty, higher levels of physical and mental health, and more economic freedom and opportunity for vulnerable communities.

• It has been found to be safe and effective for most users. Studies show that progestin-only pills, like Opill, carry a much lower risk of blood clots than traditional combination estrogen and progestin birth-control pills, because they contain synthetic progestin and no estrogen. And studies of progestin-only birth-control pills show that they are over 90% effective in preventing unwanted pregnancies — more effective than methods such as spermicide, condoms, or the sponge.

In filing the open letter, Attorney General Ellison joins California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who led the letter, and the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.


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