This week, the FDA announced its approval for the first daily oral contraceptive in the U.S. without a prescription. After decades of scientific research on the safety, effectiveness, and overall benefits of the availability of over-the-counter contraceptives for people of all ages, the FDA’s decision means that Opill,, a progestin-only birth control pill produced by HRA Pharma, will soon be accessible over the counter. 

This is a significant milestone for reproductive healthcare in the U.S., and a critical step toward ensuring access to contraception to everyone who needs it. More than 19 million women of reproductive age in the U.S. live in contraceptive deserts – meaning they lack reasonable access to a health center that offers a full range of contraceptive methods within a county of residence. The expansion of contraceptive availability is a pivotal stride forward in expanding reproductive healthcare access, although it is not a replacement for legislation to protect abortion rights. 

Ensuring access to a full range of reproductive healthcare, including contraception and abortion, is critical in achieving workplace equality for women. IWPR reports that access to contraception increases women’s educational attainment and labor force participation. 

Additionally, IWPR research shows that women with access to contraception have seen their wages grow more rapidly in their 30s and 40s than women who do not have access to contraceptives, resulting in substantially higher earnings. Moreover, women with access to contraception by age 20 are less likely to live in poverty later in life. The economic effects of expanded access to contraception are evident across generations, substantially reducing the number of those living in poverty as children and into adulthood.

 Overall, contraception is not only pivotal to women’s ability to exercise full autonomy within their lives, by allowing  people to delay childbirth it directly also increases women’s opportunities for  educational attainment and personal economic mobility and power. Women’s ability to access comprehensive reproductive health care is a human right. Women of color are often most impacted, because they are more likely to lack access to contraception. As a result, the expansion of the availability of oral contraception is a monumental step forward toward equity in reproductive health care for all. 

With the FDA’s approval of over-the-counter availability, it’s now critical that we work to ensure that Opill is financially accessible. Perrigo, the company that owns HRA Pharma, has not yet indicated what the total cost of Opill will be. Private health insurance companies are not currently required to cover over-the-counter products, so plans typically don’t. Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act covers over-the-counter products only with a prescription. While the expanded availability of contraception represents critical progress, it must remain affordable for all to access to truly be a game-changer for all women.