Opill becomes first FDA-approved contraceptive pill for over-the-counter use

In the United States, the path to accessible birth control pills hasn’t always been easy. Although the first FDA-approved birth control pill became available in 1960, the Comstock Act (a 150 year old “chastity law”) has created barriers to accessing it. 

These barriers were not challenged until Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965, when the Supreme Court ruled that states could not ban contraceptives for married couples. Yet it wasn’t until 1972 with Eisenstadt v. Baird that contraceptives became available to all people — only if one could obtain a prescription. 

Now, the pill will be available over-the-counter with Opill, thanks to the FDA’s approval of it on July 13. 

According to the CDC’s data on contraceptive use in the U.S. between 2017-2019, 14% of women between the ages of 15-49 take the pill. This is an increase from the CDC’s data from 2015-2017, which was 12.6%. 

There are two kinds of oral contraceptives available to consumers: the combination pill and the mini pill. Combination pills contain both estrogen and progesterone, while mini pills only contain progesterone. While combination pills prevent ovulation from occuring, the mini pill thickens cervical mucus and slows an egg’s movement through the fallopian tubes. Both options are equally effective and available to all consumers, but someone might be more inclined to select the mini pill if estrogen could interfere with other health problems, such as migraines or blood clotting.  

Birth control pills obtained via prescription cost between $0-$50 depending on health insurance coverage or if the patient qualifies for government programs. Under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance must cover “female-controlled” contraceptive prescriptions with no out of pocket costs— unless the insurance is provided through an employer that has religious or moral objections. 

Opill is a mini pill that doesn’t have a determined cost as of now. Speaking with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, associate professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics Carloyn Sufrin explained that, “It’s great that it’s going to be over the counter, but that doesn’t mean that everyone’s going to be able to afford it.” 

In order for Opill to truly be a step towards making birth control more accessible, it must also be affordable; no matter how accessible it is in stores, cost will ultimately determine its availability to patients. And while Opill does demonstrate progress in providing contraceptives to those that need them, it won’t suit all patients, such as those who need combination pills. 

With this in mind, we must celebrate the FDA’s decision while also using it as momentum to work towards making more over-the-counter contraceptive options available. Opill is just the beginning. 

Pregnant Workers Fairness Act goes into effect

Photo by Laura Ohlman on Unsplash

Last Tuesday, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), which President Biden signed into law last year, went into effect. This new law will expand “long-overdue protections to ensure that workers experiencing pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions have the right to reasonable accommodations in the workplace,” according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Now that the PWFA has gone into effect, the EEOC can begin accepting new charges of pregnancy-related workplace discrimination, which it prohibits. 

While not the first law to protect pregnant workers, the PWFA provides more comprehensive protections for pregnant employees than the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which has been in place since 1978. The PDA prevents employers from refusing to hire or firing an employee because they are pregnant, but within the workplace, pregnant employees are still held to the same working standard as employees who are not pregnant. This means that pregnant employees— especially those who are low-income— might not get an adequate amount of breaks while at work or time off work to go to pregnancy-related appointments. The PWFA will ultimately curb this by enabling pregnant employees to have more flexibility in the workplace. 

There are currently more than 30 states that have workplace accommodation laws in place for pregnant employees, according to the EEOC. The PWFA will not replace federal, state, and local laws if they are “more protective” of workers who are pregnant or have a pregnancy-related condition. Wyoming and Florida are the only states that do not have any pregnancy accommodation laws at the state level, and rely on federal laws alone. 

The EEOC has not issued a proposed version of the regulations necessary to carry out the PWFA yet, but the House Committee on Education and Labor Report on the PWFA lists some examples, such as being excused from strenuous activity and having the ability to sit down when needed. Employers must provide accommodations such as these unless such accommodations cause an “undue hardship” on them. 

According to a 2022 study conducted by the Bipartisan Policy Center and Morning Consult, 1 in 5 mothers say they have experienced pregnancy discrimination in the workplace and 1 in 4 have thought about leaving a job due to limited accommodations or worries about discrimination. A Better Balance, an organization which helped lead the campaign to pass the PWFA, says on its website that these individuals “have been forced to choose between their health and a paycheck for far too long.” The PWFA can help prevent employees from having to make this difficult choice. 

The PWFA could also have a positive impact on Black mothers. According to the Center for Disease Control’s newest report on maternal mortality rates, 69.9 per 100,000 Black women experience maternal mortality in the United States, as opposed to 26.6 per 100,00 white women. Moreover, a joint report between A Better Balance and the Black Mamas Matter Alliance explains that Black mothers have the highest labor force participation in the country. Greater protections for Black mothers in the workplace could help reduce the high maternal mortality rate they currently face by providing more flexibility and resources which allow them to care for their bodies and attend medical appointments. 

The FMF celebrates the PWFA going into effect and supports the equality and safety of all employees.

President Biden issues new Executive Order on access to contraceptives

Photo by Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition on Unsplash

On Friday, President Biden issued an Executive Order demanding strengthened access to affordable contraceptives and family planning services. This is the President’s first executive order which centers on contraceptives and his third on reproductive health care. His two previous Executive Orders focused on securing access to reproductive healthcare services, and were issued shortly after the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision in June 2022. 

The White House’s Fact Sheet on this new Executive Order declares that “contraception is an essential component of reproductive health care that has only become more important in the wake of Dobbs and the ensuing crisis in women’s access to health care.” Some of the main proposals the President plans to implement include improved access to contraceptives for women with private health insurance, increased access to over-the-counter contraceptives, and improved access to contraceptives and family planning services through Medicaid and Medicare. 

The Executive Order also announced a new public-private partnership between the Department of Health and Human Services and Upstream USA. Upstream is a nonprofit organization which, as its website states, “was founded in 2014 to expand opportunity and reduce unplanned pregnancy across the United States.” The White House stated that this partnership will help expand access to contraceptives while also aiding Upstream’s mission to “transform contraceptive care” in more than 700 health centers by 2030. 

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 29 states and the District of Columbia require insurers that cover prescription drugs to also provide coverage of FDA-approved contraceptives. Despite inclusive mandates such as these, federal law still allows for certain religious employers with both nonprofits and for-profit businesses to deny employees contraceptives through a provided healthcare plan. While the Trump administration dismantled the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraceptive mandate and expanded this law, the Biden administration has been working to reverse this. 

The Biden administration has also been committed to undoing the Domestic Gag Rule, which prohibited Title X-funded reproductive health centers from referring patients for abortions or providing abortions and family planning services in the same clinic. The Executive Order proposes that assistance will be provided to Title X clinics via the Reproductive Health National Training Center and the Clinical Training Center for Sexual and Reproductive Health. Additionally, the President’s Fiscal Year 2024 Budget Request includes $512 million to go towards the Title X Family Planning Program. 

The President’s Executive Order comes at the first anniversary of the Dobbs decision, demonstrating the Biden administration’s continuous commitment to providing affordable and high-quality reproductive health care. While strides such as this are slowly being made, we must continue to speak up and take action to stand against unjust laws which violate our reproductive rights. 

Justice for Planned Parenthood clinic in Costa Mesa as two men charged for firebombing

Photo from Flickr.com

On Wednesday, two men were charged with firebombing a Planned Parenthood clinic in Costa Mesa, California last March 2022. The individuals are Chance Brannon, 23, and Tibet Ergul, 21. Brannon and Ergul threw a Molotov cocktail at the entrance of the Planned Parenthood clinic prior to its opening on March 13, 2022, which then caused around 30 appointments that same day to be canceled. Nobody was harmed during the incident.

In January, the FBI offered a $25,000 reward to those who could provide information on the incident, explaining that this tactic was “part of a national effort to bring awareness to a series of attacks and threats targeting reproductive health service facilities across the country.”

Violence at abortion clinics has been on the rise, especially after the Dobbs decision, according to the National Abortion Federation. The federation’s annual report on violence stated that there were 218 reports of death threats or threats of harm to abortion clinics in 2022, which is up from 182 threats in 2021.

According to the DOJ, Brannon and Ergul were charged with “using an explosive or fire to damage real property affecting interstate commerce.” This charge carries a maximum of 20 years in federal prison. Brannon and Ergul’s actions violate the Freedom to Access a Clinic Entrance (FACE) Act, which “prohibits violent, threatening, damaging and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain or provide reproductive health services.” The two men’s charges are associated with the illegality of arson at reproductive clinics, according to the FACE Act.

The case has not yet gone to trial, so details are unknown about Brannon and Ergul’s motives. It is also unknown if they were acting in accordance with a group condoning violence against clinics, such as the Army of God.

The Feminist Majority Foundation stands with Planned Parenthood in Costa Mesa and supports the charges against Brannon and Ergul. As violence against clinics remains on the rise, the FACE Act must continue to be upheld to defend clinic employees and patients against attacks.






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