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Why the WNBA wants more people to know about the new over-the-counter birth control pill

By Jacqueline Howard, CNN

(CNN) — As the first over-the-counter birth control pill in the United States hits store shelves, the company behind the product, Perrigo, is taking steps to ensure women are aware of this new contraception option.

It’s turning to the WNBA for help.

Two notable brands in women’s history — Opill, which is the first-ever birth control pill available without a prescription in the US, and the WNBA — announced Tuesday that they are partnering to raise awareness around reproductive health and women’s health equity.

“We’re thrilled to partner with Opill, a product that will really redefine contraception accessibility,” said Colie Edison, the chief growth officer for the WNBA.

“We’ve been committed to addressing the issues that matter to our players, to our fans, to our communities, and we know that expanding access to reproductive health care is really of the utmost importance,” she said. “Our spotlight will be on civic engagement initiatives, as well as reproductive health advocacy.”

The multi-year partnership involves civic engagement initiatives around how voting can influence reproductive health matters in underserved communities, informing the public about Opill as a new contraception option, and hosting educational events on college campuses in the fall, according to Perrigo and the WNBA.

“With our partnership with the WNBA, we’re looking forward to meeting fans where they are with compelling Opill education and to share relevant stories about reproductive health,” said Leila Bahbah, US Women’s Health Brand Lead at Perrigo. She added that the partnership targets “anyone who can get pregnant” and is interested in learning more about their reproductive health as well as their options for contraception.

The partnership is still “at the very early stages,” Edison said, but “we’re also looking forward to doing some social media, other fan engagements, and educational activities around our events.”

The new partnership will launch at the WNBA draft on April 15.

“Opill will be our associate partner of the WNBA draft. We expect a lot of eyeballs on this draft. We’re very excited about this draft class,” Edison said. “We’re also welcoming fans to attend. Our tickets sold out in less than 15 minutes. So, really, we’re anticipating one of the most watched drafts in the history of the league.”

The new partnership is a “bold move” for the WNBA and Opill, Cari Champion, former ESPN host and a CNN contributor, said Tuesday.

“They’re making a statement in a lot of ways,” Champion said, adding that the WNBA has a long history of advocacy.

“For so long, these women have been advocates. They have been at the forefront of so many social issues,” Champion said. “And so now they’re saying, ‘It’s okay to have this conversation about reproductive health.’ ‘It’s okay to talk about birth control.’ ‘It’s okay to be informed about your body and have a say-so in the process.’”

Last year, the US Food and Drug Administration approved Opill for over-the-counter use without a prescription. Now, the product’s new partnership with the WNBA comes at a time when the United States has seen growing division around women’s reproductive rights.

The US Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022, holding that there is no longer a federal constitutional right to an abortion, has led to debates around making birth control more accessible. In the days after the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, overturning Roe v. Wade, doctors and prescribers reported seeing an increase in demand for various forms of contraception.

As demand grew, President Joe Biden issued an executive order last year outlining the administration’s plan to protect and strengthen access to contraception.

“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,” a statement from the White House said at the time.

Opill, which is now available online and in stores, was approved by the FDA without age restrictions and is “suitable for most people of reproductive age to use to prevent pregnancy,” according to its website. Opill works as a “mini-pill,” using only the hormone progestin to prevent pregnancy. It’s a different formulation than what is in combination hormonal birth control pills, which contain both progestin and estrogen.

Combined birth control pills may carry risks for people with uncontrolled hypertension or blood clot risks for smokers older than 35. Contraindications for progestin-only pills include conditions such as breast cancer or liver disease, or the use of certain medications.

When taken as directed at the same time every day, Opill has been found to be 98% effective at preventing pregnancy, according to Perrigo. Most birth control pills are up to 99% effective at preventing pregnancy if taken as instructed.

Dr. Colleen Denny, director of family planning at NYU Langone Hospital – Brooklyn, who is not involved in either Opill or the WNBA, called the new partnership a “cool” forum to get more people aware of Opill.

“In the very general sense, there’s a lot to say about female athletics and the rise of women professional athletes that is empowering in a lot of ways,” said Denny, an obstetrician-gynecologist.

“I’m always a little skeptical of Big Pharma and their partnerships, but I think the general principle of having highly effective over-the-counter birth control be over the counter, that’s empowering” she said. “That really puts a lot of power over people’s reproductive lives in their own hands.”

Denny added that other over-the-counter birth control pills could be coming in the future.

“Other over-the-counter pills are coming. They’re in the pipeline now. Opill is not going to be the only one,” she said. “And making sure that people are aware of how to use it, what to expect in terms of side effects, how to buy it, how much it costs — more awareness, I think, is always good.”

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