More and more women, health workers, and advocates are pushing to make birth control pills an over-the-counter medicine, leading Meredith Melnick to take a thorough look at what's giving the decade-old movement steam and the many questions surrounding it, for Newsweek. Advocates are latching on to new research that shows the pill could be safe for nonprescription use, and have defined an aggressive timeline: to present the FDA—which has yet to approve a single "chronic use" over-the-counter drug—with a proposal this year, and have the pill on shelves in 5 years.
What they're hoping to get is what basically amounts to "half a pill" approved: Most oral contraceptives contain both estrogen and synthetic progesterone; the latter has fewer side effects, and could potentially be safe to use without a doctor's OK. But plenty of questions linger: Will it really be safe? Will women sidestep the doctor's visit altogether, missing out on the cancer-screening Pap smear? Is it fair to require one to get the other? What about women on Medicaid, which doesn't cover nonprescription drugs? And will gynecologists, who could lose revenue, fight it? Click here for one perspective on the topic.