There is a debate on campus over whether birth control pills should be subsidized by the university. Because of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which changed the way that pharmaceutical companies paid rebates to the states, pharmaceutical companies can no longer offer birth control pills to college health care clinics at discounted rates. As the birth control pills that Vaden stock-piled run out or expire, the price of birth control may rise by up to forty dollars. Generics, which are currently $10, are still expected to remain relatively inexpensive and be a feasible option for most women. The increase in price will not affect students under Cardinal Care or those who have outside insurance with a pharmacy benefit. Director of Medical Services at Vaden Robyn Tepper said that clinicians are referring some students to Planned Parenthood for contraceptives or recommending lower priced alternatives like IUDs.
Stanford Students for Choice has started a petition for the University to subsidize birth control. The petition now has about 2000 signatures. The 10th Undergraduate Advocacy Committee is also working on legislation to urge the University to ensure that birth control remains affordable. ASSU Senator Stephanie Chan, who ran under the platform of maintaining the birth control discounts, says that it is too early to say where the funds for subsidies will come from.
“I am confident, however, that we can find a solution, even if we have to raise private funds,” said Chan.
The main argument for subsidizing birth control is to ensure that students engage in safe sex and to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Proponents claim that low income women are especially affected by the increased prices and will have to make tough decisions like the choice between books, groceries and birth control.
“From preliminary surveys, Students for Choice found that many Stanford women said they would not know what to do about contraception of birth control prices rise,” said Stephanie Chan. “The problem of continued access to reliable birth control is the biggest problem at hand.”
Another argument is that some women pay for prescription birth control outside of their parents’ insurance because they do not want their parents to know. Chan says that if that is no longer a financial possibility, many women may have to sacrifice sexual privacy. Students for Choice co-president Kate Benham also says that doctors prescribe birth control for reasons other than pregnancy prevention such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, and amenorrhea.
“Access to birth control is not a proven causation for promiscuity,” said Benham. “We advocate a woman’s access to the tools to control her own reproductive choices.”
Those who argue against subsidizing birth control have economic, religious, and personal reasons. Economics major Charlie Capps claims that there is no “right” to birth control and that the only legitimate reason to subsidize anything is if it has significant positive externalities.
“The only reason the University should subsidize birth control is if it has significant positive externalities,” explains Capps. “It is easy to see, however, that the ‘benefit’ of birth control, namely, the avoidance of pregnancy, is something that is highly internalized by the consumers of birth control. In other words, the harmful effects on society as a whole that result from a college girl sustaining an unwanted pregnancy are negligible compared with the harmful effects on that girl’s personal life.”
He concludes that university subsidies of birth control are a waste of money and cause a “deadweight loss.” He notes that this argument has nothing to do with religion and is based purely on sound economics. He also says that it is unfair to force students—directly or indirectly—to pay for something to which many students are religiously opposed.
Junior Jonathan Scrafford argues that it is unfair to subsidize birth control unless all other unnecessary pharmaceutical items like medicine, shaving cream and shampoo are also subsidized. He says that birth control can lead men and women into unhealthy sexual lifestyles that they may later regret. President of California Students for Life Mary Ho agrees that birth control encourages sex as a recreational activity and that it promotes selfish behavior.
“I wouldn’t want men to put chemicals into my body for sterilization. I don’t want to be someone’s object or toy,” says Ho. “It really commodifies women and their bodies. Using birth control reduces someone to their body parts.”
She also agrees that birth control is not a right or an entitlement and that too many Stanford students feel entitled.
“If they don’t want to get pregnant or have unsafe sex, then just don’t have sex,” says Ho. “We’re human beings. We can control ourselves. We’re not animals.”
But she says that the rise in prices will stop girls from having sex. She thinks that girls will still buy the pill at the higher price or find an alternative.
“It’s not going to be a problem at Stanford,” says Ho. “They will not stop having sex. They will find a way.”