Birth Control Prices and the 08 Election

Holly Kennedy

Who among the crowded field of presidential candidates, both Democratic and Republican, will do the most to address the rising cost of hormonal birth control on college campuses?

Editor's Note: With this post, we introduce you to "Youth Voices," our new collaboration with Choice USA, an organization that trains and mobilizes the next generation of reproductive choice activists. Youth Voices will feature the writing of youth activists working with Choice USA around the country.

At the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, there's a lot of sex, but not a whole lot of talk about it. We have abstinence-only education in our religious-conservative state which has generated a general unwillingness to talk about the mattress rodeo. So when our birth control prices suddenly jumped in cost on campus (the NuvaRing, a kind of birth control I've bought from our health center before went from $22 to $48, pricing it out of my reach), I wasn't terribly surprised not to hear anything about it. There was an article in our campus newspaper, The Crimson White, and that was more or less it.

Our campus' new Choice USA chapter, Choice Alabama, is trying to change that. Lately we've been giving out condoms and dental dams and getting people to sign Choice USA's petition to support the Prevention Through Affordable Access Act, a bill introduced in the House by Representative Crowley (NY-D) and in the Senate by Senator Obama (IL-D) and McCaskill (MO-D) with bipartisan support. In case you're not up to speed on your reproductive justice news, the Prevention Through Affordable Access Act is legislation which aims to restore the federal incentives for pharmaceutical companies to offer lower-priced hormonal birth control to college and low-income clinics which were cut through the Deficit Reduction Act. Identical pieces of legislation are in the House and Senate right now, and they need your support!

Through my work on campus, I've noticed that many students don't know about birth control, much less the issues surrounding it. One student walked up to our table and when asked to sign the petition said, "I don't really know about this whole birth control thing. Can you tell me how it works?" So we explained how birth control prevents pregnancy and can even be used to treat conditions such as endometriosis. Once he knew the facts about birth control and the PTAA Act, he was more than happy to sign the petition and get involved.

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Students are often tagged as apathetic, but many of us do try to be as politically aware as we can, even if through non-traditional means. Voter turnout among the 18-29 crowd is up for the second major election in a row, and with technology making it easier than ever for young people to get politically involved, I see that rate increasing. Our support can make or break a campaign, so it's very important that candidates pay attention to what we care about. Reproductive rights will definitely play a big role in who I'll support in this election, but which candidates are actually going to stand up for our rights and access to hormonal birth control and emergency contraception?

That's a tricky question. While Senators Clinton and Obama and the rest of the Democratic candidates support the availability of EC and federal funding for birth control (with the exception of Mike Gravel, who isn't so sure about the federal funding part), the GOP is a little different. Mitt Romney opposes EC, he is all for federal funding for birth control. Mike Huckabee doesn't want you to be able to get EC or learn about contraception in school. John McCain and Ron Paul don't want taxpayer money funding either (or just about anything, in Congressman Paul's case) and on top of that, Paul is morally opposed to emergency contraception and doesn't want the federal government making rulings on anything related to reproductive rights.

It's a complicated battleground to navigate because some of the Democratic candidates aren't really as reproductive rights friendly as they'd like us to believe, and a few of the Republicans are more so than we'd expect. It's a careful balancing act, and my vote certainly isn't cast yet.

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