Students weigh contraception options after Roe v. Wade’s overruling



First-year residence halls offer free condoms as an effort to encourage safer sex. But students said they could use more education on all contraception options available.

Brianna Hatch, Editor-in-Chief

Students are thinking more about their contraceptive options this fall, as they grapple with the fact that abortion access is no longer protected on a federal level. 

On June 24, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that made abortion a federal right in America. Now, state legislatures have the power to restrict, or fully ban, abortion services. 

Abortion is currently legal in Virginia during the first two trimesters of pregnancy. After 26 weeks, exceptions are made if three physicians agree that a pregnant individual’s life or health is in significant danger. 

“Right now, we’re in a state where abortion is legal, so that’s definitely something to consider,” said Jensen Rocha, ’23, vice president of the Sexual Health Awareness Group (SHAG). “But we’re now the first generation of women to have fewer rights than the women before us. And I think that’s appalling.” 

Governor Glenn Youngkin said in late June that he wants to ban abortion in most cases after 15 weeks in Virginia — a statement which sparked partisan divide among state legislators, the Washington Post reported. The Center for Reproductive Rights classifies abortion in Virginia as “not protected.” 

Payson Richardson, ’23, president of Gender Action Group, said Washington and Lee students are facing a lot of uncertainty. 

“Now that abortion rights have been thrust into states’ power, a lot of students don’t know where their personal reproductive rights stand,” Richardson said. “At W&L especially, we are pretty landlocked in terms of where you can go to get an abortion, so it can get scary.”

Washington and Lee could offer more resources to students who come from more restrictive states, Richardson said, because some abortions are still legal — and because of the contraceptive options available at the student health center. But the extent of those services are not always well-known. 

“I think people have a general idea that you could go to the health center and maybe get the pill,” Richardson said. “But I personally didn’t know what contraceptive options you could get here until this year.” 

Jane Horton, director of student health, said the Student Health Center has many contraceptive options available to students. “We can work with students regarding whatever the best option is for them,” she said. 

The health center can prescribe and dispense birth control pills for $12, Horton said. “But many people are not choosing to get their pills filled here anymore, because we’re not a fully licensed pharmacy, so we can’t bill their insurance. And if someone is willing to use their pharmacy benefit on their health insurance, there’s typically a zero copay because it’s covered as a preventive service.”

Rocha said getting birth control through the health center is especially helpful for students who want contraception, but don’t want their parents to know they are on the pill. 

Students can also get prescriptions for depo provera, nuva ring, ortho evra patches and more, Horton said. And the health center can provide referrals to Rockbridge Area Health Center for implants or IUDs. 

Emergency contraception is also available at all times through the health center. Since the product is over-the-counter, students just need to do a brief evaluation with a nurse to receive it. 

“And the cost to get Plan B here, we use a generic form of Plan B, is $20—whereas at the pharmacy, it’s usually somewhere $40 to $50,” Horton said. “There are some online options that are lower cost, but you have to plan ahead to order those. So we’re the most readily available 24/7 at the lowest cost that I’m aware of in the area.”

Richardson said access to affordable emergency contraception and referrals for IUDs is a key benefit for students. “But I wish we had a more comprehensive health center on campus in which we could get IUD placements,” she said. 

The health center also does not supply ella, Richardson said, which is another form of emergency contraception that works for up to five days after sex — and is more effective for people who weigh more than 165 pounds. 

Rocha said that SHAG is working to make more resources relating to safe sex and sexual health available in the health center — and raising awareness about the resources available. According to Horton, first-year students are told about options during orientation and resident life staff is trained about sexual health. But she agreed most promotion about contraceptive options on campus is through “word-of-mouth.” 

“We’re here as the primary health care provider for students, and that includes sexual health and men’s and women’s health care,” Horton said. “So I would just encourage students to come in and talk to us about any of those issues, and then we’ll work with them to find whatever is the right option for them.”