Hannah McDermott has used the Wilce Student Health Center since arriving at Ohio State in August; it’s the closest resource for her. But, when she tried to change her oral birth control prescription last semester, the smooth experiences she once had became a thing of the past.
“They just sort of fit me in a box … I had to go there four different times just to change it, and it didn’t even end up working,” she said.
Her medication increased her amount of hormones over three weeks, which she believes caused severe symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, also known as PMS.
About one month after beginning a different oral contraceptive that had a consistent amount of hormones throughout, McDermott, a first-year in nursing, noticed she was experiencing symptoms of depression.
“I was trying to rationalize that it was the first month of college, and it’s probably really hard on me. Then a month later I realized, ‘Oh, this is probably not what it is,’” she said.
Before fall break, McDermott went back to Wilce. She said a nurse told her she “was probably just depressed.” She returned two weeks later to see a doctor who prescribed the same brand of birth control that was causing her initial PMS symptoms, but with three increasing levels of hormones.
“The hurdles I jumped weren’t hurdles that needed to be there,” McDermott said of her experience. “What they told me could have literally been put in a paragraph email.”
Gladys Gibbs, director of Student Health Services, declined to comment on specific student experiences. She said in an email that Student Health Services strives to make health care affordable and accessible to Ohio State students.
“Student Health Services is firmly committed to helping students achieve the best affordable health care. While Student Health Services is a fee-for-service facility, we do recommend resources in the community that may have a sliding scale fee,” she said. “We can also recommend pharmacies in the community where a limited type of birth control pills are very affordable on a monthly basis. Our pharmacy also tries to find coupons from the manufacturers that might benefit students.”
While not all students have experiences similar to McDermott’s, hers does underscore the increasingly popular and sometimes difficult search for access to birth control.
The hurdles I jumped weren’t hurdles that needed to be there. What they told me could have literally been put in a paragraph email. —Hannah McDermott, first-year in nursing
Birth control pills are used by 9.72 million women, usually between the ages of 15-44, across the country, according to a study by the Guttmacher Institute.
Access to birth control in Ohio is “pretty decent” due to the Affordable Care Act mandates as well as Medicaid, said Alexandra Kissling, a doctoral candidate at Ohio State studying the sociology of reproduction.
On campus, Wilce offers contraceptive services such as prescriptions for the pill, the ring, the patch, intrauterine devices (IUD), injections and implants, each requiring a consultation with a doctor. As is the case with any medical provider, students’ experiences at Wilce have been a proverbial mixed bag.
“Birth control should be widely accessible to whoever wants to use it, but I also don’t think that means that you should take whatever kind of birth control without any kind of knowledge or understanding of what’s happening,” Kissling said. “We need to find a way to inform people about what the risks are in a way that actually get [understood].”
Emma Terres, a third-year in English, women’s, gender and sexuality studies and Latina studies, has been on birth control since she was aboutaround 15 years old. As an Ohio State student, she began looking for a new gynecologist to consult about a pre-existing condition and contacted Wilce to schedule a pelvic exam and birth control consultation.
“The lady said, ‘Yes, you can have a birth control consultation, but you cannot get a pelvic exam because you need to be 21,’ which is not true,” Terres said, adding that Wilce also said she could only receive an exam for an STD.
“It’s recommended that you get [a pelvic exam] at 21 for every woman, unless you have pain,” Kissling said. Pap smears are typically given to women when they turn 21, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
For some, subpar experiences with birth control providers have sent them searching for alternatives. Most health care providers — Wilce included — require health insurance plans to obtain birth control.
Nurx, an online and app-based birth control, circumnavigates the complex process and does not require any health care coverage. It is only available in 12 states, including Ohio.
“The thing that jumped to mind first when I saw this is that it’s probably going to be very beneficial for teens,” Kissling said.
She said not requiring insurance would help women, adding other birth control providers who do not require health care such as Planned Parenthood are facing “lots of restrictions on what they can and can’t do, where they can and cannot be, what services they can and cannot provide at what locations, and I imagine that makes it difficult to navigate.”
While there are alternative options outside of campus, McDermott called for Ohio State’s health center to improve its OBGYN procedures.
“Everyone seems to desire to get on birth control. It’s not a big deal … if you want to take birth control, you should be able to go and get it,” she said.