Should birth control pills be available without a prescription?

In Oregon, birth control pills can now be purchased without a doctor's prescription.

On New Year's Day, Oregon became the first state where women can buy birth control pills or contraceptive patches without a doctor's prescription. California is not far behind.

But it won't be grab-and-go medicine on drugstore shelves the way, for example, ibuprofen and antacids are sold. Women over 18 who'd like to purchase oral contraceptives or hormonal patches to reduce their chances of becoming pregnant will be required to provide written health information first. Then a pharmacist who has received special training will review it and decide whether to give the green light. If there are health concerns, the woman will need to see her doctor for medical approval.

Legislation allowing the move was signed by Oregon Governor Kate Brown last summer. California passed similar legislation that will make the products available in that state without a doctor's prescription in March. And lawmakers in Colorado and Washington have also proposed versions of Oregon's new law, according to local news reports.

It's a positive step that improves access for women, Dr. Mark DeFrancesco, president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told CBS News.

"The pill has been around for about 55 years now. It's very safe," said DeFrancesco.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see more states follow," he said when asked if other states would be influenced by the Oregon legislation.

He believes the benefits of making the pill more available to women outweigh any risks.

While there's a slightly increased risk for stroke and deep vein thrombosis in women who take birth control pills, he said, "In my 30 years of practice, I've seen rarely -- rarely -- deep vein thrombosis or stroke."

He said pregnancy also increases the risk for those conditions and while it's still low, the risk is higher during pregnancy than while taking the pill.

The pill offers some women benefits as well, including lighter and less painful periods, and a reduced risk for ovarian cancer and fallopian tube cancer (though these conditions are fairly rare). The risk of developing both are cut in half in people who have taken the pill for at least five years, DeFrancesco said. Women with endometriosis may also get pain relief by taking oral contraceptives.

De Francesco said ACOG would like to see the availability of oral contraceptives opened up even further for women.

"It's a step in right direction to have the pharmacist involved. But we don't want it to stop there. We'd like to see unfettered access with appropriate labeling. We have great respect for pharmacists, but it's still behind the counter. There's still a barrier between patient and pills," said DeFrancesco.

There are about four million births in the U.S. every year, and roughly half of those are known to be unintended, DeFrancesco said -- "Not necessarily unwanted, but unintended."

In Oregon and California, pharmacies were already allowed to provide emergency contraception without a prescription.

DeFrancesco said easier access to birth control pills could help reduce the number of abortions. According to the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 699,202 legal induced abortions were reported in 2012.

"There's no question the vast majority of abortions in this country are from the unintended pregnancy pool. If we can decrease unintended pregnancies by increasing pill access, we'd likely decrease abortion," said DeFrancesco.

There are a variety of birth control pills and patches on the market. DeFrancesco said the types and levels of hormones vary by product.

"This will be a long and involved process. Every brand will have to go to the FDA and ask for OTC [over-the-counter] status," he said.

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    Mary Brophy Marcus covers health and wellness for CBSNews.com