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CONTEXT: Barriers to contraceptive access encourage nonuse and gaps in use, which contribute to the high prevalence of unintended pregnancy in the United States. One strategy to improve access to oral contraceptives is to make them available without a prescription.

METHODS: From March 2007 to January 2009, focus group discussions and in-depth interviews were conducted with 45 low-income women in the Boston area to explore how they obtain contraceptives and their opinions about making oral contraceptives available over the counter. Transcripts of the discussions and interviews were deductively and inductively coded. Data were analyzed thematically, and illustrative quotes were extracted.

RESULTS: Overall, participants reported ease in obtaining contraceptives, which were available at multiple accessible locations throughout Boston. However, various barriers—unaffordable copays and clinic visits, the time required for clinic visits, restrictions on the number of packs of prescription contraceptives (e.g., the ring, the pill) purchased monthly and the limited time frame in which to purchase them—deterred consistent use of preferred methods. Most participants supported over-the-counter access to oral contraceptives; however, they raised concerns about cost, as well as the safety of such access for minors, first-time users and women with medical conditions.

CONCLUSION: Women’s concerns about over-the-counter access to contraceptives must be addressed if this approach is to improve use and potentially help reduce the unintended pregnancy rate.