Letter to the Editor

Letter to the Editor


On March 10, Congress passed legislation to make birth control affordable again for millions of American women who obtain contraceptives at community health centers and college clinics –– including Whitman college students.  The provision was included in the 2009 omnibus appropriations bill that passed the U.S. Senate March 10 and the House of Representatives two weeks prior.
In 2005, Congress passed the Deficit Reduction Act, which restricted eligibility for nominally priced drugs.  In doing so, Congress inadvertently cut off safety-net providers and every college and university health center from obtaining contraception at a low cost, and passing on those savings to their patients. As a result, many women have been paying up to 10 times more each month for basic contraception, leaving them at risk for unintended pregnancies and some health risks that contraception can alleviate.  The campus health center at Whitman was no longer able to provide birth control to its patients, sending them to local pharmacies or Planned Parenthood for birth control.

Leading the fight were Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senators Max Baucus (D-MT), Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Representatives Joseph Crowley (D-NY), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Tim Ryan (D-OH), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Adam Schiff (D-CA), and David Obey (D-WI).

The passing of this legislation is a victory for women’s health and especially for women who have struggled to afford the rising costs of basic contraception in these tough economic times.  Approximately 14,000 Americans losing health coverage every day.  According to the Guttmacher Institute, women of childbearing age spend 68 percent more in out-of-pocket health care costs than men, in part because of reproductive health-related supplies and services.

Planned Parenthood, NARAL and other reproductive rights organizations began nationwide grass roots campaigns to restore affordable birth control in 2007.  These organizations mobilized people across the country to reach out to members of Congress through letters, phone calls and lobby visits to Capitol Hill in an effort to raise awareness about the need for a commonsense fix.  At Whitman, students signed petitions, wrote letters to the editor and articles, and conducted community outreach in Walla Walla.
The legislation is now en route to President Obama for signature.  President Barack Obama has been a strong supporter of the legislative fix; as a senator, he sponsored legislation to restore access to affordable birth control.

Once the law is signed, the affordable birth control provision will immediately go into effect.  To assure pharmaceutical companies that they may once again offer all eligible health centers nominally priced drugs if they so choose, we asked Senators Stabenow (D-MI) and Baucus (D-MT) to submit a colloquy (a conversation for the record, demonstrating congressional intent) to that effect.  Planned Parenthood is also reaching out to pharmaceutical companies, asking them to communicate with their distributors so affordable birth control can be back in the hands of those who need it as soon as possible. 

– Cora Davidson,
Public Affairs Field Organizer, Planned Parenthood of Central Washington