Birth Control Pills … Or a Frappuccino?

As the Ms. Blog reported yesterday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will require all health insurers to fully cover women’s preventative health services, including birth control. With birth control costing some women hundreds of dollars each year, this measure slightly reduces the financial burden of being a woman.

It may surprise some that in this day and age, birth control (let alone other preventative health care) is still considered a subject of controversy. Yet conservatives protested the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommendations that led to the HHS’ decision. Most notably, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly said, “Many women who get pregnant are blasted out of their minds when they have sex, they’re not going to use birth control anyways.” So, according to O’Reilly, women only have sex when they’re drunk or high–a time when women condoms as their primary form of contraception? Even ignoring the anti-woman insult, O’Reilly clearly does not understand how birth control works or what insurers would cover (note: it’s not condoms).

Fox News political commentator Dana Perino added, “If you can afford a $5 Frappucino at Starbucks, you can pay your $5 co-pay.” There are so many things wrong here. First of all, Perino assumes that all women can afford to spend $5 on designer coffee drinks. Second, she assumes that all birth control copays are $5. While some lucky few pay $5 for generic forms of hormonal birth control pills, many pay far more, especially if their best option is the NuvaRing, an IUD or another method. How about $70 a month copay, as one woman reported to us? That’s a lot of Frappucinos.

Yes, even women with health insurance can pay hundreds of dollars a year for birth control in the U.S. While some men do buy condoms, the financial burden of pregnancy prevention rests primarily on women. Factor in another $100-200 per year on tampons and other feminine hygiene products and you start to see just how expensive it is to be born with a vagina. (And I’m not even including the cost of clothes, makeup, hair-removal services, etc. that women are pressured to buy in order to be considered “desirable” or even “professional” in our society.) On top of that, women still earn less than men for doing the same work.

When I first heard the news yesterday, I got excited about the extra $400 or so I would be saving on birth control. I thought about what I could buy with the money: plane tickets, an iPod, or new furniture for my apartment. But when I posed the “what would you buy?” question on Facebook, most women responded that the money would go towards paying bills. Realistically, in this down economy, that’s probably how I’ll spend it too. The sad truth is that it’s much more expensive to be a woman than it is to be a man. But in the near future, the cost of preventative and reproductive health care won’t penalize us for being women.

Photo from Flickr user hslo under Creative Commons 2.0.

This blog is part of the #HERvotes blog carnival. Read more HERvotes posts by Ms. and other women’s groups.


  1. I remember a quote in Ms. 30 years ago: If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” We — men and women — reproduce, but for some reason, these Fox commentators focus solely on the woman’s role, and then get it wrong. The mechanics of birth control — pills, condoms, rings — are used by one partner, but in an ideal world birth control itself would be the right and responsibility of both. Thanks for keeping us posted on a debate that I had assumed would be over before I hit 25. I’m 62 this year.

    PS: I think the quote is Flo Kennedy’s, but not certain.

    • I totally agree with you there Diane. The Fox news commentators, and in fact many right wing republicans, simply have no clue about the problems low income women face, for this is the demographic which is having the most problems in this area…especially when it comes to purchasing contraceptives that work for each of them, individually. Comparing a frappucinno to a contraceptive?! Really?! Frankly, all women need to do is look at O’Reilly’s face and that will get them out of the mood really quick! From my own experience, I would say it is men who are more “out of their minds” during the sexual act, than women are.

      Contraceptives should be the right and responsibility of both…I wish that men, just once, had to deal with our monthly cycles, and all the ups and downs of pregnancy…just once.

  2. Iliana Echo says:

    I have no clue where they get the idea that women can afford $5 drinks even one day a week. I can’t even afford to buy a cup of plain $1 coffee every day!

    • No kidding! I want to pull Dana aside and gently tell her, “Honey, your Privilege is showing.” I can barely afford $10 a week for groceries, let alone designer coffee.

    • WoobieTuesday says:

      mhm…. was kind of like a “let them eat cake” statement…

  3. Julia towery says:

    I think thats wrong of the news woman to say. & the news man. Not all of us are going out getting drunk and messed up everynight. & most of us arn’t rich like others. We cant afford a 5 dollar coffee everyday. Im lucky to get something besides water to drink. I have a child that needs things that sometimes I cant even afford. If they start making people pay for birth control.. Teenage pregnancys are going to go up drastically & thats gonna have even more people needing government help! If anythings free, it should be birth control because i personally am thinking about the people that cant afford it and are going to be to ashamed to ask for someone else to buy it. What was said was just rediculous to me.

  4. I might be able to afford 20 Frappuccinos a day, what does that have to do with the cost of my reproductive care?

    If men can afford buying women drink in hopes of getting laid, they should be able to afford the cost of parenthood?

  5. My copay on my birth control has ranged from 20 bucks to not having it be covered at all. Because I cannot take the generic because it screws up my hormones when mine is not covered I have to pay 60 bucks about every three weeks for yasmin. At one point that was 5 percent of my monthly income. Not a ton, but it added up to about 900 dollars a year!

    Do they also realize that the women that we most need to be taking birth control are the ones who CAN’T afford that? When those women get pregnant they are more likely to end up on welfare because they can’t afford to be single mothers. And correct me if I’m wrong…but isn’t the welfare for the child much more expensive to the people than the slight premium increase for BC?

    The Utopian concept of “raising thieves and then punishing them” and how that affects the rest of society negatively and not just the thieves seems to be beyond these people.

  6. Natasha Beck says:

    @Diane. Yes,the quote you cited is from the late,great Flo Kennedy. As a Boomer and Second Wave feminist,I know she said that in the 70s. She wrote a great piece in Sisterhood is Powerful,ed.Robin Morgan,1970.

    I’ve been saying it for years: men need to take responsibility. More men should use condoms WITHOUT being asked,and if they have no (further)interest in parenting,should get vasectomies.

  7. Thanks for such a great article! We needed a little ray of light in the current political climate.

    I’m with Natasha and Sara. Why don’t men worry about and THEIR fertility? I know the answer is “duh, we live in patriarchy”, but the close to complete absolution from parental responsibility for males in our society is simply asinine. I’m in my mid 40’s, so I’m a product of Second Wave gains and am so pissed off at male privilege I could scream! It’s got to be truly maddening to Second Wavers who worked so hard. This feels like a big victory, but let’s hope it’s not just a bone they’re throwing us to see if we’ll back off….

  8. They don’t have a clue!

  9. Men are fertile 24/7, all day, every day, from puberty to death. Women are fertile 3-4 days a month … and yet we get the burden.

  10. thankfully, I have decent insurance. even with that, the copay on my nuva ring is 50 dollars at the university pharmacy and 80 dollars at home. before that, I was on Yaz, which had a 60 dollar copay. I had to stop taking it because I have a dairy allergy, and neither I nor my doctor realized the binder in the pill would be a problem. My doctor also refused the IUD as an option because I am young and have not given birth. The main reason I use birth control is to manage my PMS-without it, I wouldn’t be functional for ten days out of a month. What would someone do if they were in my place and did not have good insurance? It’s difficult enough to manage those conditions, but to be discriminated because of them on top of the challenges related to availability and price? That’s too much. Maybe it’s even harder to extend those rights to women than it is for some people to engage their brains before opening their mouths.

  11. Katrina Griffing says:

    I’m on a limited income so I’m lucky I can manacge to find $1-much less 75 cents for a cup of coffee at work.Not very many of us (women) have the luxury to buy a $5 starbucks or whatever.I could live without frapps.Need my birth control to help with my severe mood swings. Thank You,Ms.Stienem for helping many women become liberated.

  12. Dude, I’m working two jobs and just got hired for a third. My husband and I had to use the fact that I was hired for a third job to justify getting Subway today, to say nothing of a 20 oz. drink that would cost just as much as that sandwich did.

    When I lived in KY, I was uninsured and had two jobs. My birth control pills were $16 a month. I think that’s about as cheap as they get.

  13. This topic is in the news again and as the mother of two adult daughters in their late 20’s, who….sorry to disappoint all of you, did discuss birth control with them, I’d like to know something. I went to Planned Parenthood, my daughters went to Planned Parenthood, why aren’t any of these other highly educated(?)women going there? But more importantly, for those who use birth control to prevent unplanned pregnancies, why aren’t your partners helping out with the expense?

  14. tina williams says:

    Again not totally against women on this, but i guess they see it like other americans are seeing it. The escort servies, the craigslistings, the porn sites, and hookups and the lonley wives sites. At Tsarina! the partners aren’t gonna help cause with some of those women theyre johns, strangers, men they meet online, someone else’s husbands.

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