Thursday, February 4, 2010

Birth Control Access in Review

As an undergrad attending a women's college, having birth control and other forms of contraception readily available was far more than a novelty. It was considered a normal part of our women's health and wellness program. After receiving a wellness check up, the option of selecting generic contraceptives at a very reduced cost or for free was as second nature as selecting dessert to complete a full course meal. But once the Student Health Center made its announcement that it would no longer carry birth control, it left a lot of students frazzled and uncertain of how to continue using birth control in their daily lives.

The reality of a women's college--consisting of 2300 fertile young women, most of whom are likely to be sexually active--no longer offering any form of birth control is somewhat of an oxymoron. I began to question where would the first year students, who are required to live on campus with no personal transportation, go to get birth control? Would they be able to afford it? Many college-aged women depend on their Student Health Center to offer birth control because of its affordability and accessibility.

Our FMLA went to the Director of the Student Health Center and our Vice President of Student Affairs to get some clear answers. What they shared helped us to understand this issue in a bigger context beyond just our campus community. It was affecting most colleges and universities in the nation and public clinics serving low-income communities.

They explained that the unreasonably sudden hike in cost of birth control was more than the college's entire family planning budget. So unfortunately, they had to make drastic cuts. How did this happen, you might ask? Why did the cost increase?

Well, according to the facts given in FMF's Access to Birth Control Campaign, for almost 20 years, Medicaid pricing rules allowed pharmaceutical companies to provide college health centers and over 400 clinics serving low income women with birth control at a substantial discount. As a result, many students and low-income women nationwide had access to affordable birth control through these clinics and college health centers. In 2005, the rules changed, going into effect on January 1, 2007. The result: birth control prices skyrocketed on campus - some saw prices increase by up to 5 times their original prices! In some cases, prices went from $10 a month to over $50 a month. FMF's campus program worked with students all over the country to mobilize and demand a fix in legislation.

By being plugged into FMF's Birth Control Access Campaign, we immediately went to work by petitioning the student body. We received an overwhelming support from both students and administration. And the work of hundreds of young women across the country paid off, because in 2009, Congress reversed the 2005 act and passed regulations to permit discounted prices on campuses and affected clinics servicing low-income women once again. YES! A huge victory for us all, right? Well, unfortunately there's still one more hurdle to jump.

Still many student health centers have not adjusted their prices and there are still not enough federal dollars going to family planning programs.
Want to get involved? Here's what you can do:
  1. Go to your Student Health Center and make sure birth control and emergency contraception is offered and its given a discounted price.
  2. If you can't access birth control on campus, start a petition, write op-eds in your student newspaper, present resolutions to student government and administration.
  3. Encourage the Health Center to be on your side.
  4. Get plugged into FMF's Birth Control Access Campaign action kit and disseminate information on campus.
Unfortunately, the ongoing battle to secure and protect reproductive health and rights for women continues on. But let this be one more battle won for young women in college and other women across the nation!

This article was featured in our February 2010 monthly Choices eZine. Sign up for our alerts to stay up-to-date with the latest feminist news and to receive the monthly eZine.

No comments: