More of This, Please: Illinois Approves Over-the-Counter Birth Control [Updated]

Pharmacists in the state can now approve a full year of birth control without a doctor's prescription.

HealthIn Depth
More of This, Please: Illinois Approves Over-the-Counter Birth Control [Updated]
Photo:Rich Pedroncelli (AP)

An elected official has done something morally responsible, scientifically supported, and indisputably good for people’s reproductive health for a change.

Last week, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a law that allows pharmacists to approve up to a year’s worth of hormonal birth control without a doctor’s prescription. The legislation, House Bill 0135, only requires that patients—people who walk into the drugstore—complete a self-screening assessment and undergo a brief consultation. The pharmacist would then provide patients with “counseling and education about all methods of contraception … and their proper use and effectiveness” and write the prescription themselves. Et voilà! Twelve months of birth control.

“This legislation that I’m signing into law today makes Illinois one of the first states in the Midwest to provide birth control over the counter, making contraceptives all the more accessible and affordable in our state,” Pritzker said on Thursday.

Illinois is the eighth state to approve this version of over-the-counter birth control, a longtime demand from the reproductive rights movement. National Women’s Liberation, a grassroots feminist organization, has played a key role in organizing for OTC emergency contraception: The group’s protests and legal battles eventually led to the Obama administration’s Food and Drug Administration approving OTC Plan B in 2013—14 years after the morning-after pill was approved for prescription use. But the fight for OTC hormonal birth control has been even more protracted, with the FDA spending years investigating the safety and effectiveness of providing birth control to patients without a prescription—a safety record that many reproductive health experts argue has long been established.

But the issue may finally—finally—be gaining more traction. According to a recent op-ed in The Hill, the FDA may be nearing the end of its approval process: Two pharmaceutical companies are currently asking the agency to rubber stamp “common formulations” of the pill they’ve developed for over-the-counter use. “The promise of an over-the-counter oral contraceptive appears to be within reach,” Raegan McDonald-Mosley, the CEO of the birth control access fund Power to Decide, wrote for The Hill.

I’m tempted to say that we mustn’t get our hopes up too high—we’ve certainly heard it all before. But while the FDA gets up to speed, perhaps more states will follow in Illinois’ footsteps.

Update (7/31/31, 1:30 p.m. EST): This blog has been updated to clarify that while the pills will not be available on shelves in Illinois pharmacies—as they would be if the FDA approved OTC birth control—pharmacists have the ability to prescribe and dispense them.

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