Dr. Donnica Moore, a physician and women's health advocate, said the risk of side-effects from birth control pills are not very different than other medications available over the counter, such as Tylenol or aspirin -- medications that can cause severe liver damage or stomach bleeding if over-dosed or taken under the wrong conditions.
"There is really no reason that oral contraceptives should not be available over the counter," said Moore, who nonetheless acknowledged that side effects remain a concern for many women.
But another concern about making birth control over the counter is cost. The current price of birth control pills ranges from $10 to about $95 dollars per pack, Moore said. She said she is concerned that making the pill over-the-counter may lead to a situation in which it is not covered by health insurance – which means that women would have to bear the costs themselves.
One point on which experts agree, however, is that certain women should avoid the pill altogether.
"For anybody, smoking is stupid, but for anyone over 35, smoking and taking birth control pills... smoking is potentially suicidal," Moore said, adding that smoking has been shown to increase the risk of blood clots, stroke, and heart attack in women.
And while physicians on the committee said women should be able to "self-screen" for these serious risk factors, Moore said that women on the pill should still be on the lookout for serious warning signs that something is wrong -- symptoms such as leg pain, tenderness, and "the worst headache of their life."
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' Nanda also said even if birth control is available over the counter, all women should receive a yearly well visit in addition to counseling about contraception and other preventive care.