It’s no secret that the world of reproductive health has been rocked recently, Most notably, when Roe vs. Wade was officially overturned, leaving countless people with uteruses vulnerable to horrific medical outcomes — and an overall lack of agency over their own reproductive health. 

Just over a year after that overturning, we finally have some news that feels promising. The FDA just approved an over-the-counter birth control pill, the first non-prescription birth control oral medication to earn this approval.

woman taking a pill

Opill: The first over-the-counter birth control pill to be approved by the FDA

Opill, which is manufactured by Perrigo, is a progestin-only oral contraceptive for use in people of all ages. It is to be taken orally once a day, and it’s not to be used as an emergency contraceptive — which means it will not work if taken after unprotected sex to prevent a pregnancy from implanting. Opill is expected to be available over-the-counter in stores in early 2024. 

“Today’s approval marks the first time a nonprescription daily oral contraceptive will be an available option for millions of people in the United States,” Dr. Patrizia Cavazzoni, the director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, says in a statement. “When used as directed, daily oral contraception is safe and is expected to be more effective than currently available non-prescription contraceptive methods in preventing unintended pregnancy.”

When birth control requires a prescription, there’s a real barrier to access for so many people. Minors who need parental consent, people who don’t have access to proper healthcare, people who live in remote areas — there are so many situations where seeking out a prescription may be difficult or even impossible. There’s also distrust of the medical community, particularly among people of color and other marginalized individuals. Identifying all the barriers that have historically existed between people and proper birth control access is complex. But by removing this one step of the process, we are presumably able to create pathways to acquiring birth control for so many people.

tattooed woman wearing cross pendant

This is a move that’s supported by expert groups. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists calls out lack of access as a major reason for inconsistent use or nonuse of birth control and openly supports over-the-counter birth control policies. The group points out that this is something women have been wanting as well. The one caveat? ACOG clarifies that over-the-counter access shouldn’t carry a higher price tag than prescription birth control.

Pricing, as we all know, can be a major barrier to access as well. Evaluating how Opill will address this has yet to be seen, as pricing has not been determined at this point. That’s why it’s crucial that we continue working and advocating for more equitable access in the world of reproductive health: Even when barriers like prescription are removed, other barriers can certainly exist between people and essential birth control medication. 

A year ago, we feared access to birth control would be limited further in the wake of Roe vs. Wade’s overturning — there were even rumblings that birth control could be outlawed or legally restricted. But this FDA approval moves the needle in the right direction: This will work to close up gaps in access to birth control for so many people.

"Today's approval is a groundbreaking expansion for women's health in the U.S. and a significant milestone towards addressing a key unmet need for contraceptive access," says Frederique Welgryn, Perrigo’s Global Vice President for Women's Health, in a statement from the company. "Perrigo is committed to making Opill®, which is now the most effective method available OTC at preventing pregnancy, accessible and affordable to women and people of all ages.”

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Of course, the availability of an over-the-counter birth control option doesn’t fix everything that’s wrong in the world of reproductive health in the United States. Even with improved access to birth control, we still have very real issues that have gone unaddressed, not to mention the new issues that were created with Roe vs. Wade’s overturning. But for now, we celebrate a piece of good news — finally.

Zara Hanawalt is a freelance journalist and mom of twins. She's written for outlets like Parents, Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Motherly, and many others. In her (admittedly limited!) free time, she enjoys cooking, reading, trying new restaurants, and traveling with her family.