What does it mean for Arizona women if FDA approves over-the-counter birth control pill?

The application filed by HRA Pharma to the FDA has some real implications for states like Arizona that have bans and restrictions on abortions.
Published: Jul. 11, 2022 at 8:50 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- For the first time, a pharmaceutical company has asked the FDA for permission to sell a birth control pill over the counter in the United States. Currently, a woman has to have a prescription in order to take it. But now that an abortion ban, except for life-saving procedures, is back in effect in Arizona, access like this could be a game-changer.

Ironically the pharmaceutical company said this timing has nothing to do with the overturning of Roe, as it’s something that has been in the works for years. But now, it has some real implications for states like Arizona that have bans and restrictions on abortions.

In the past few weeks, OBGYN Dr. Laura Mercer has been fielding the same questions from her patients. “There’s a lot of uncertainty in Arizona about exactly what our current laws mean and there is a lot of nervousness and worry,” said Dr. Mercer.

As it stands, the territorial law is back in effect, which says there is a total ban on abortions in Arizona unless it’s a life-saving situation, and punishment for providers who perform abortions is prison time. “Access to any kind of birth control is going to be good for the people of Arizona,” said Dr. Mercer.

That’s what the company HRA Pharma is trying to do. On Monday, the company filed an application with the FDA to sell a birth control pill over the counter.

The move sets up a high-stakes decision for health regulators amid legal and political battles nationally and state to state over women’s reproductive health. “When we have access to birth control, we know that abortion rates decrease,” said Dr. Mercer.

Several doctors in Arizona talked about access barriers and why some women may struggle to get on birth control. “Whether it’s insurance, whether it’s being able to get connected with a primary care doctor, making an appointment and just the logistics,” said Dr. Shad Marvasti, a physician with the University of Arizona College of Medicine.

Dr. Shad Marvasti said OTC birth control has long been encouraged by many health agencies and organizations, with minor risks not unlike many other OTC pills. “The clotting risk for birth control pills is relatively low and you also think of the risks of an unplanned and unanticipated pregnancy,” said Dr. Marvasti.

What remains a question is whether states can and will fight the decision if the FDA approves it, but Dr. Marvasti said when it comes to safety approval, the FDA is top-tier. “It’s to be a much more of an uphill battle when something is FDA approved. That basically means it’s sanctioned,” said Dr. Marvasti.

So how fast could this all happen? An FDA approval could come next year, and the pill would be sold under its original brand name “Opill.”