Activist Stresses Personal Costs of Cutting Birth Control Funds

Sarah E Amanullah

Andrea Miller, a reproductive health expert from NARAL, discusses "The Economics of Birth Control", sponsored by the Harvard Students for Choice as a part of Women's Week. Miller spoke about the new and controversial decision made by the House of Representatives to stop funding for Family Planning, and said she hopes to open conversations about reproductive and familial health in the United States.

Adding to the national dialogue on funding for women’s reproductive health care, speaker Andrea Miller argued at a “Women’s Week” event yesterday that a woman’s right to control her body transcends financial concerns.

Miller—Executive Director of NARAL: Pro-Choice Massachusetts—spoke to a packed Women’s Center about the economics of birth control.

“It’s terrific we’ve got dollars and cents arguments, but this is about how each of us navigates questions about sex and relationships and families,” Miller said.

Miller shared statistics on the benefits of federal funding for birth control resources, noting that for every dollar spent on family planning, Medicaid saves $3.74. In 2008, those savings summed to about $5.1 billion, she said.

But Miller broadened the scope of the discussion by posing a hypothetical assignment to attendees: how would you write a term paper about the cost-effectiveness of birth control?

The paper, she said, might touch on the three most “cost-effective” methods of contraception: intrauterine devices, birth control pills, and vasectomies. But economic efficiency alone cannot dictate which method is the best choice for a given individual, she said.

“What I thought would be more interesting would be to think and talk ... about what kinds of costs matter in our own lives,” Miller said.

The discussion then turned to tradeoffs and investments in the personal rather than economic sense.

“I think one of the most salient points she made was that what’s going on right now in the House of Representatives and in the public debate about reproductive health is fundamentally about whether women can control their lives and make their own choices,” Karen A. Narefsky ’11 said. Narefsky is co-director of Students for Choice, the organization that hosted the event.

Attendees Melissa V. Perez ’13 and Amanda J. Villani ’14 said that, among the discussions on health insurance and Planned Parenthood funding, they were especially struck by the statistics.

“When she told us that one in three women will have an abortion by the time she’s 45 and told us to look around the room, seeing the number of girls who hypothetically would have abortions was quite startling,” Villani said.

Miller said an average woman spends 5 years pregnant or trying to get pregnant, and about 30 trying not to get pregnant.

“I think it’s really important that women our age are thinking about their reproductive lives, access to birth control, and other parts of women’s health care,” said Leah Reis-Dennis ’13, another event planner. “At Harvard, we have so many resources, so it’s important that we advocate both for ourselves and for those who cannot advocate as effectively.”

—Staff writer Julie R. Barzilay can be reached at