Free the Pill: After 60 Years, It Belongs Over the Counter!

Saturday, May 9, marked the 60th anniversary of the FDA approving the birth control pill, and I bet the people who celebrated its arrival in 1960 didn’t think we would still be fighting for it to be accessible to everyone in 2020—the poor, the marginalized, the uninsured,just to name a few groups that can’t seem to catch a break, especially when it comes to reproductive rights. Enter #FreeThePill activists across the country, who are demanding access to birth control that’s over the counter, covered by insurance, and available without age-restrictions.

Nancy with her parents on Christmas, 1997

My personal backstory on this subject: My mom is an immigrant from Bangladesh, and she grew up poor. Birth control was inaccessible to her because she was uninsured and, like most of us as teenagers, broke. She was 18 when she ended up having me. Growing up, she always talked about how much she missed out on because she had me so young. She made me promise her that my academics would always come first, and that I would wait to have kids so I could enjoy my young adult years and create a life worth living.

I was 19 when I realized that I needed to get on the pill. I had no type of insurance because we were lower-middle class and insurance was just EXPENSIVE, so we couldn’t afford it. But we also weren’t poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. I had nothing to help cover the cost of the pill, and was truly a broke teenager who just wanted to be sexually liberated while protecting my future/career, which meant no kids for me anytime soon.

My initial experience of trying to get birth control was at my college clinic. At my appointment, I asked about birth control and was given a prescription by my OBGYN. I was way too excited for it, so I headed to my pharmacy to get my prescription filled. But when I asked the pharmacist how much I was going to have to pay, they said about $150.

I almost had a stroke.

The initial feeling upon realizing I couldn’t afford it was shock, but then a wave of sadness and worry came over me. What was I going to do? How was I going to get the money together? How much easier and less expensive would it have been if the pill was over-the-counter? It was infuriating that taking control of my reproductive future meant paying what felt like an arm and a leg. And I was relatively lucky: I had a car, gas money, and, most importantly, time out of the work day to go to my appointment. Many people don’t even have access to a car, and the closest place to receive health care is from the pharmacist at their nearest drug store.

Nancy meeting with Sen Richard Burr (R-NC) during Capitol Hill Days, before she joined our staff!

All of this to say, when I heard about the #FreeThePill movement, I was inspired to write this post. I know my experience is one that so many people can relate to. Birth control is a right, and everyone deserves access to it. Rich people (and believe me, when you’re poor, everyone who isn’t poor seems rich) shouldn’t be the only people allowed to enjoy sex without worrying they’ll get pregnant.

The #FreeThePill movement tackles those tough barriers to the pill by demanding that we allow for the pill to not only be over-the-counter, but accessible and affordable. Making it over-the-counter would mean people of all ages could get it, assuming their pharmacist didn’t identify any risk factors during the health screening. The movement also advocates for the pill to be fully covered for those who DO have insurance.

Support the #FreeThePill movement, y’all. A young, broke teen just like I was will thank you.

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