In the fall of 2007, I enrolled in Project Community, a service learning course through the University’s Ginsberg Center that assigns students jointly to a volunteer position and a peer-facilitated seminar to examine their experiences through a sociological lens. I was then placed in the public advocacy department of Planned Parenthood of Mid and South Michigan. I was excited about the experience and, in true University of Michigan fashion, believed that I was totally prepared. I quickly learned that I was wrong.
Coming from a Catholic school, I never had a proper sex education. In ninth grade, my health teacher held up a condom in front of the class and said, “This is a condom, but don’t try to steal it. You can’t use it. I poked a hole in it.”
In 12th grade, my sex education faced its first test when my doctor recommended I begin taking the birth control pill to ensure normal reproductive health. Because all I could think about was how much I want a family when I am older, I resisted. I didn’t want birth control to make me sterile, as my limited sex education had taught me. Looking back, it amazes me that I didn’t question what I had learned until my mother finally confronted me about why I was resisting my doctor’s orders. Needless to say, she corrected the misinformation, and I finally chose what was best for me medically: the pill.
In my first days at Planned Parenthood, I learned about many different forms of contraception, but most importantly, I started to learn the intricacies of public policy surrounding issues of sex education, contraception and abortion. I was flabbergasted when I learned about a recent change in federal law that takes away subsidies to discourage pharmaceutical companies from offering college and community health clinics prescription drugs at lower prices. I also discovered that the University Health Service had initially shielded University students from the implications of this policy by stockpiling popular brands of the birth control pill while it could still purchase them at discounted prices. I couldn’t believe there wasn’t more publicity surrounding the issue.
For the next two semesters, my classmates and I dedicated our seminar to taking action on this issue. We tried to educate University students and call them to action before it affected our campus. We collected petitions, wrote to the media and made in-district visits to Democratic Rep. John Dingell’s Dearborn office.
In April, I was contacted by the Advocacy Director of Planned Parenthood of Mid and South Michigan and asked to travel to Washington, D.C. to lobby on the issue of affordable birth control. I was one of four college-aged women representing the more than 5 million women negatively impacted by this policy change. We met with Dingell, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D–Mich.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D–Nev.) to give a face to the issue and show that birth control isn’t just for horny college students. Birth control is a component of basic health care for women. Restoring affordable birth control can be done with one simple sentence at no cost to the government. Yet, as Planned Parenthood reports, this combination of backtracking and inaction has represented a 900 percent cost increase for affected women since 2005. All of the legislators with whom we met pledged their support in helping us change this policy.
But September is almost over, and the fix has not been made. University students are now paying $50 to $60 each month for name-brand birth control pills. A few weeks ago, I traveled again to Washington to meet with Stabenow and Reid to impress upon them the extremely negative impact this is having on college campuses across the country.
I have become an advocate for students on campus, but it is not an effort I can take on alone. Students need to advocate for themselves and for each other. Write a letter to your senator and member of Congress. Consider this issue when voting in November, and cast votes for those legislators who care about the health of women and will help us make a change.
Allyson Hoerauf is an LSA senior.