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Pushing the Pill Closer to the Counter

By Virginia Postrel
November 21, 2012 2:54 PM EST

Should you be able to buy the pill over the counter? The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ Committee on Gynecologic Practice now thinks so, issuing a recommendation that oral contraceptives be made available without a prescription.

This anti-paternalist reform has sound medical evidence behind it, as I discussed in a column in March. It also offers a policy that both sides in the vicious culture war over women’s access to contraception can agree on. Promoted mostly by advocates of reproductive freedom, the change has also been endorsed by anti-abortion conservatives, such as my Bloomberg View colleague Ramesh Ponnuru.

This doesn't mean, however, that things will be changing at Rite-Aid anytime soon. Getting the Food and Drug Administration to OK over-the-counter sales of a pill already approved for prescription sales would take $10 million for studies. Then a pharmaceutical company would have huge marketing costs to establish a new brand. Who might embrace the opportunity? One possibility is Johnson & Johnson’s McNeil Consumer Healthcare division, whose formerly prescription-only products include Nicorette, Motrin and Pepcid. Another is Church & Dwight, whose products include Trojan condoms and First Response pregnancy tests.

Regardless of who takes on the challenge, selling the pill alongside condoms and pregnancy tests makes a lot of sense.

(Virginia Postrel is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow her on Twitter.)

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