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Over-the-counter birth control: A step forward, but what about the abortion pill?

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In recent years, there has been a monumental shift in access to reproductive healthcare, marked by the availability of the first over-the-counter birth control at pharmacies, convenient stores, and grocery stores – Opill. This significant milestone has empowered individuals to take control of their reproductive health like never before. However, as we celebrate this progress, it’s crucial to recognize that there’s still much work to be done, particularly concerning the accessibility of abortion pills.

The approval of over-the-counter birth control is a landmark victory for reproductive rights advocates. It signifies a departure from antiquated regulations and underscores the importance of ensuring equitable access to contraception. By eliminating the need for a prescription, individuals are granted greater autonomy over their reproductive choices, which is a fundamental aspect of bodily autonomy and gender equity.

Yet, while over-the-counter birth control represents a significant step forward, it also serves as a stark reminder of the glaring disparities in reproductive healthcare access. Despite its efficacy and safety, the abortion pill remains inaccessible to many individuals due to restrictive regulations and bans. Mifepristone, one of the two medications used in medication abortion, has been proven to be safer than commonly available drugs like Tylenol, Penicillin and Viagra. However, its distribution is heavily regulated, placing unnecessary barriers in the path of those seeking abortion care with a medication that has been approved by the FDA and known to be safe and effective for over 20 years.  In the meantime, Walgreens and CVS have begun steps to stock and prescribe Mifepristone at many of their locations in states where abortion is legal.

Currently, the Supreme Court faces a pivotal decision regarding the accessibility of the abortion pill. The question at hand is whether Mifepristone can continue to be prescribed and mailed to individuals in the same manner as other medications. This decision holds immense implications for reproductive rights, particularly for marginalized communities who already face significant challenges in accessing healthcare services.

If SCOTUS decides in favor of allowing continued access to abortion pills by mail, it would represent a monumental victory for reproductive justice. It would signify a recognition of the importance of protecting equitable access to abortion care, regardless of one’s geographic location or socioeconomic status. However, failure to do so would only exacerbate existing disparities, disproportionately affecting marginalized communities who often lack access to abortion clinics.

In this critical moment, organizations like the Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Program (WRRAP) play a crucial role in bridging the gap in access to abortion care. Since April 2022, WRRAP has been funding access to the abortion pill by mail, providing crucial support to individuals in need. Our success rate speaks volumes about the effectiveness of this approach, demonstrating that it is not only safe but also incredibly impactful in expanding access to abortion care.

As we reflect on the progress made in reproductive healthcare access, we must remain steadfast in our commitment to advancing reproductive justice for all. Over-the-counter birth control is undoubtedly a significant achievement, but it cannot be the end goal. True bodily autonomy can only be achieved when individuals have unimpeded access to the full spectrum of reproductive healthcare, including abortion care.

It’s time for SCOTUS to recognize the importance of protecting access to the abortion pill and take a meaningful step towards ensuring equitable access to abortion care for all.

Sylvia Ghazarian is executive director of the Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project (WRRAP), the largest national, independent, nonprofit abortion fund.