High Birth Control Costs Add to College Concerns

College students face soaring costs of birth control pills when they return to campus this fall.

For years, birth control pills were sold at discounted prices at colleges and universities with students paying around $3 to $10 for brand name prescription. This year, however, the price has jumped to as high as $50.

Providers fear this may lead female students to either stop using prescription birth control methods or use other less effective ones such as condoms or Plan B. The concern of conservative groups, meanwhile, remains the same. They say campuses are skipping out on offering young women the one sure method of protection.

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"They're teaching these women that they need to have this to protect themselves," said Kimberly Martinez, executive director of National Abstinence Clearinghouse.

"I think first of all, what they're not doing is offering the women the one means of protection that will absolutely protect them 100 percent – that's the message of abstinence," she added. "They're failing to tell [female students] about their value and worth and giving them tools and resources they need to remain abstinent."

While there are groups on college campuses actively spreading abstinence messages to students who typically have left the nest for the first time, abstinence education has largely been centered on middle and high schoolers. Federal funding for abstinence-only education has primarily focused on teenagers (12-18-year-olds) and has increased over the last decade although it still remains far less funded than sex education, Martinez noted.

Nevertheless, studies have indicated that abstinence education is working. Birth rates among teen girls have dropped to a record low of 21 births per 1,000. The Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics released a report last month that revealed fewer births along with fewer students having sexual intercourse (from 54 percent in 1991 to 47 percent).

"How can anyone hesitate to recommend abstinence for children?" posed Janice Crouse of the Beverly LaHaye Institute. "How, in good conscience, can a supposedly-responsible adult support public policies that would communicate to such girls and boys that 'safe-sex' is an appropriate option?"

Martinez argues that the message of abstinence is equally important to college students who largely leave their homes and have to make their own decision.

"It's vitally important that they are reminded of the importance of waiting," said Martinez, who cannot predict if the high cost of birth control pills will deter women from sexual activity.

About 40 percent of sexually active college women reported relying on pills and other prescription forms of birth control, according to the American College Health Association. Health professionals worry students will switch from a method they're using successfully to a less expensive option.

Already at the University of Iowa, three-fourth of students on Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo – a pill that has no generic form – have switched to something less costly, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Plan B sales, meanwhile, will probably double from $40 million a year to about $80 million in 2007, according to Time magazine. The "morning-after pill" was approved for over-the-counter access last winter and many pro-lifers have protested, calling it another form of abortion.

The two-pill package blocks a fertilized egg from attaching itself to a woman's uterus, which leads to it being flushed from the body.

Some have filed lawsuits to place Plan B back as a prescription-only drug and many are backing a pharmacy's right to make moral decisions about whether to carry the emergency contraception or not and a pharmacist's right not to sell it. Several states now have laws that require pharmacists to distribute the pill when asked.

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