College offers few barriers to getting morning-after pills

by Bridget Alex | 11/1/04 6:00am

Elizabeth Hirsh, manager of the women's health program at Dick's House, rummaged through a filing cabinet as she searched for a handout on pregnancy options.

"This is how often I have to pull this out," said Hirsh, who was unable to find the little-used printout.

Dick's House sees just a handful of unplanned student pregnancies each year, down from between 25 and 40 in 2001. Hirsh, who has held her position at Dartmouth for three years, attributed the drop to easily available contraceptives and Plan B, the morning-after pill. Under the student health plan, students can get Plan B 24 hours a day, for $5.

The morning-after pill has been available at Dartmouth since the mid-1980s, but Hirsh said that more students have become aware they have that option and are increasingly taking advantage of it.

However, when unplanned pregnancies occur, Dick's House provides students with options and support.

Over the course of two appointments, women decide whether to become a parent, place the baby up for adoption or have an abortion.

If students choose the abortion route, Dick's House helps them access local abortion services at either Planned Parenthood of Lebanon or the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

Dick's house does not perform abortions -- or any surgeries, for that matter -- because it is not equipped to handle anesthetic emergencies. Students can, however, stay at Dick's House post-surgery.

Most students are able to find a way to pay for an abortion, Hirsh said, but for some, the cost poses a problem. Dartmouth does not subsidize abortions the way it does birth-control pills, but 80 percent of the cost of an abortion is covered under the Dartmouth health insurance plan.

Hirsh has looked into obtaining funds from the College but was unsuccessful because of the controversy associated with abortion, she said.

Abortions at Planned Parenthood start at $415 on a sliding scale. DHMC charges $500 and will usually work out a payment schedule.

Hirsh said there seems to be enough help around that most women can get the support they need, "even if it's asking for donations from their friends."

The women's health program realizes how traumatic an unplanned pregnancy can be and encourages women to seek the Dick's House counseling services, "to deal with the shock, grief, fear or other emotions the woman is experiencing," said the pregnancy options handout.

"We really do try and treat the abortion issue just as we would any other medical condition: very middle-of-the-road," said Hirsh.