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Affordable Birth Control Restored

Allie Bohm,
Policy Counsel,
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March 12, 2009

What a difference an election makes. Since January 2009, we have seen President Obama repeal the Global Gag Rule and the Department of Health and Human Services propose the rescission of the Health Care Denial Rule. And just a few days ago Congress passed, and President Obama signed, the Fiscal Year 2009 omnibus appropriations bill that not only provides the first ever cut to abstinence-only programs, but also restores access to affordable birth control for all college and university health centers and safety-net clinics that serve low-income women and men.

This issue is particularly close to my heart, because I remember walking into my college health center in January 2007 and seeing signs saying that the price for birth control pills would be rising to $50 per pack. At the time, I wondered what had caused the increase, and more importantly, how my classmates were going to afford birth control on top of books and rent, knowing that some of them were already subsisting on ramen noodles for dinner in order to save money.

It was not until I graduated college and began working at the ACLU that I understood what caused the dramatic increase in birth control pricing. A change made in the 2005 Deficit Reduction Act, which went into effect in January 2007, inadvertently ended the decades-old practice of allowing pharmaceutical companies to voluntarily offer low-cost drugs to safety-net providers and college and university health clinics. As a result, my classmates and I, and college students across the country, saw the price for a pack of pills skyrocket from $5 to $10 to $40 to $50. But the ramifications for safety-net providers were even greater. Unable to pass on the cost for birth control to their low-income patients, clinics were forced to shorten hours, layoff staff, and cut back on other health care services, like cancer screenings and sexually transmitted infections treatment.

And, as the economic situation in our country worsens, the number of uninsured people is increasing. As more and more individuals and families look to safety-net providers for their basic health care needs and otherwise try to cut costs, the issue of affordable birth control has become ever more pressing.

Given the fact that it had a no-cost fix, it’s surprising that it took Congress two years to restore access to affordable birth control. But Congress is generally a slow-moving machine in need of a significant amount of prodding (and the addition of 27 new pro-choice Members of Congress and a pro-choice president didn’t hurt).

Many, many thanks to all of you who took action through ACLU’s Action Center to tell Congress to restore access to affordable birth control! This is your victory!

So today we celebrate. But, we have other reproductive health struggles on the horizon. Please go to our Action Center and express your support for rescission of the Health Care Denial Rule or urge President Obama to zero-out abstinence-only funding from his 2010 budget request. The 111th Congress and the new administration have gotten off to a good start for reproductive freedom. Let’s make sure the momentum continues!

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