• Ava Kaminski

Pill Pill Pill, Let us get the Pill

The “free the pill” campaign is a tiny but mighty movement ready to get the tables turning in the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). The overall goal of the campaign is to make it legal to purchase over the counter birth control pills. A similar movement not too many years back made it legal to obtain Plan B over the counter, which is also referred to as “the morning after pill”. Being able to have access to this Plan B has helped many people prevent the possibility of pregnancy because a number of things might have gone went wrong. Putting Plan B over the counter has done so many good things in reference to women's health, and adding birth control would only make things better.

What does birth control even do? After a questionable health class some are still left in the unknown in what birth control does to a normal menstrual cycle, besides the fact that it can prevent pregnancy. To understand birth control in a more comprehensive way, we first need to explore where it stems from and what changes birth control makes in the body system. After all, if you're going to be taking a medication it is helpful to know exactly what it does to your body systems.

Marta Staple is a nurse practitioner who works on the UW campus at their offices and provides information about many different types of birth control. She learned most of this information in her masters program. The menstrual cycle is not as simple as many might expect. It definitely isn't what we've learned in health classes. There are two hormones involved in the cycle; estrogen and progesterone. In the first half of a person's cycle, estrogen is secreted from the ovaries, and as it peaks the hormones communicate to the area of the brain called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus releases the luteinizing hormone that tells your ovary to ovulate an egg. In order for an egg to leave the ovary, it will have to select on egg to build a fluid sac around, called the follicle. The luteinizing hormone causes it to fill with fluid, and rise to the surface of the ovary before it pops out. What is left behind is called the corpus luteum, which is where the egg popped out of. The corpus luteum secretes progesterone. In the uterus at this stage, the estrogen has rebuilt up the lining to be thick and the progesterone “glues” it together to keep it strong and ready for an embryo to be implanted. The corpus luteum heals itself and closes which causes the progesterone levels to drop off, causing the bleeding. When taking birth control, this process basically comes to a stop. Most pills are a combination of both estrogen and progesterone, with both hormones being taken at the same time, the shift between the balance of hormones does not happen. So, if taken properly the pill should provide effective birth control. There are three weeks of active pills that have hormones in them, followed by a week of placebo pills that don't have hormones. In a menstrual cycle both hormones are at their low during bleeding. With the hormones not being present a similar “period” can be mimicked by bleeding.

Some younger teens are put on birth control for other reasons that don't relate to wanting to be protected from pregnancy. They may hop on the pill train to combat acne, or painful and heavy periods, just to name a couple. There is not a standard one type of pill that everyone gets. The same way that if you have a headache you can take a variety of ibuprofen brands, Tylenol, Advil, etc. Each are slightly different but carry their own benefits and purposes. There are 10mg, 20mg, 30mg, 35mg, and 50mg dosages available. Those dosages refer to the amount of estrogen in a pill and then an equal amount of progesterone is added to the pill as well. Then in subcategories there are different types of progesterone that are added to estrogen. Each type of progesterone can target different side effects. Commonly prescribed are the pills in the 20-35mg range. In order to pinpoint which side effects one may want to prevent when going on birth control, you're going to have to see a medical professional. This campaign is working to get a standard pill over the counter and that is not necessarily an unreasonable request.

Many who are against the pill being over the counter are worried that it will increase sexual activity, or that it is dangerous. Putting the pill over the counter will only increase safe sexual activity. One of the main barriers of obtaining birth control is not having health insurance, and even though Planned Parenthood does the best that they can, going there is not always an option. A Walgreens on every corner could be. Getting the pill over the counter would not necessarily be a cheap solution and if you have insurance going through a doctor and getting a prescription is probably the best option.

Some say that it is dangerous and causes unnecessary, avoidable health complications. “Well you know what else can do all that [blood clots, headache, stroke] is pregnancy. Pregnancy is more dangerous than taking birth control pills, so from that point alone and we look at a harm reduction model, just letting anyone take pills that want to, you will end up with someone getting a blood clot or stroke, maybe even dying if they don't know they have a disorder. Those same people with the blood clot disorder are very highly likely to have a blood clot, stroke and die when pregnant. And pregnancy is more likely to cause a clot than pills [cause of the higher hormone levels] so pills could actually save more lives maternal wise,” Marta Staple, a UW nurse said. Looking globally complications during pregnancy and childbirth is the leading cause of death in teenage mothers. [Even though this would only help United States residents, pregnancy comes with more complications and issues than the pill, no matter your age.]

I would like to think that we’re able to look after ourselves and do what we think is best for our bodies, after all that would only benefit us in the long run. Many prescriptions, like allergy prescriptions, are now available over the counter and I don't see why birth control can't join them. It'll save many from unplanned pregnancies and their costs. Many people need and deserve to have access to medications and making them available over the counter is part of that solution.

Hopefully the ball starts rolling with the campaign at a faster speed so that this care can be accessible for everyone. If you are concerned about a certain type of symptom that you want to treat call Planned Parenthood and they can help you with trouble shooting.

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