No prescription or doctor's exam needed: The nation's largest group of obstetricians and gynecologists says birth control pills should be sold over the counter.
The influential American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is declaring it's safe to sell the pill that way, but some are hesitant whether the idea will gain traction in Washington or in Tennessee.
The surprise opinion from these gatekeepers of contraception could boost longtime efforts by women's advocates to make the pill more accessible.
But no one expects the pill to be sold without a prescription anytime soon: A company would have to seek government permission first, and it's not clear if any are considering it. Plus, there are big questions about what such a move would mean for many womens' wallets if it were no longer covered by insurance.
Still, momentum may be building.
Already, anyone 17 or older doesn't need to see a doctor before buying the morning-after pill - a higher-dose version of regular birth control that can prevent pregnancy if taken shortly after unprotected sex. Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration held a meeting to gather ideas about how to sell regular oral contraceptives without a prescription, too.
One Tennessee lawmaker said she is ready to champion the move in any way possible.
"It's the right thing to do," said State Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville.
Jones said Tennessee has suffered too much with poverty, ignorance and abuse.
"If you have an unwanted pregnancy, you wind up with two kids - one having a kid. It causes somebody to drop out of school. Then, they go into the system, cost the state money," Jones said. "It's a terrible, vicious circle. I think we would all benefit if birth control is over the counter."
Half of the nation's pregnancies every year are unintended, a rate that hasn't changed in 20 years and easier access to birth control pills could help, said Dr. Kavita Nanda, an OB/GYN who co-authored the opinion for the doctors' group.
"It's unfortunate that in this country where we have all these contraceptive methods available, unintended pregnancy is still a major public health problem," said Nanda, a scientist with the North Carolina nonprofit FHI 360, formerly known as Family Health International.
Many women have trouble affording a doctor's visit or getting an appointment in time when their pills are running low, which can lead to skipped doses, Nanda added.
The Obama administration's new health care law requires FDA-approved contraceptives to be available without copays for women enrolled in most workplace health plans.
If the pill were sold without a prescription, it wouldn't be covered under that provision, just as condoms aren't, said Health and Human Services spokesman Tait Sye.
Prescription-only oral contraceptives have long been the rule in the U.S., Canada, Western Europe, Australia and a few other places, but many countries don't require a prescription.
Copyright WSMV 2012 (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.