Pregnancy at Yale: What’s a girl to do if contraception fails?

There’s no doubt that Yalies are interested in sex. From conspicuously empty plastic baggies hanging in freshman entryways to Porn in the ‘Morn’s overflowing enrollment, signs abound that Yalies want to learn about it, watch it and even do it. Still, while drunken hook-ups and steamy relationships may be fodder for salacious Sunday brunch conversations, pregnancy, typically, is not.

But despite its lack of visibility, pregnancy is far from a non-issue on campus.

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In fact, according to a News poll sent to 2,000 Yale undergraduates last week, one in three of the 281 female respondents reported having used Plan B at least once to prevent a possible pregnancy during their time at Yale. In addition, 20 percent of female respondents reported having believed they were pregnant at some point, while five students indicated that they had actually been pregnant. (Plan B is an emergency contraceptive that reduces the chance of pregnancy by 89 percent if taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sexual intercourse or contraceptive failure. Unlike the abortion pill, RU-486, it does not affect an existing pregnancy.)

Concerns about pregnancy are perhaps unsurprising, considering that, of the 55 percent of respondents who indicated they had previously had or were currently having heterosexual sex, nearly 20 percent said they either used ‘the pull-out method’ or no form of contraception at all.

Meanwhile, the most widely used form of contraception among the poll’s respondents was condoms, at 45 percent. Last year, Yale University Health Services provided 10,000 of them to undergraduates, said James Perlotto, chief of student medicine at YUHS.

Still, in actual use, condoms fail 11 percent of the time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is potentially 11 pregnant Yalies for every 100 who only use condoms to protect against pregnancy.

So what’s a girl to do if contraception fails, if she has unprotected sex — or if she winds up pregnant?

With February and its deluge of love-promoting, sex-prompting activities at last at an end, it is high time to examine two issues that receive little attention at Yale: pregnancy prevention and, well, pregnancy.

ONE IN THREE: COULD BE ME

“Shit happens,” said Sue, an Ezra Stiles College sophomore who said she has used Plan B once. “It’s better to take Plan B than get pregnant or worry until your next period about whether or not you are pregnant.” (Students referenced by only their first names in this article have been quoted under pseudonyms to protect their privacy.)

When told the poll found one in three female respondents had previously used Plan B, the two dozen students interviewed for this article had mixed reactions. On the one hand, most students who said they had used Plan B were either not surprised or said they expected the percentage to be higher. On the other, many who had not used Plan B said they expected it to be lower.

All students interviewed said unequivocally they were glad that students had been able to access Plan B if they believed they needed it.

“I think it’s great that people are aware of backup options and are taking advantage of them,” said one Branford College junior, who has used Plan B.

But Jennifer, a junior in Davenport College, said that while the statistic did not surprise her, she believes Yale administrators should do more to inform students — perhaps during Camp Yale — of all their emergency contraceptive options.

Jennifer said she used Plan B for the first time during her freshman year after barrier contraception failed. When she realized what had happened, she said she felt completely in the dark about what to do.

“Sure they told us at Camp Yale all about condoms and how important it is to use them,” she said. “But they didn’t really tell us what happens when they don’t work.”

It was ultimately one of Jennifer’s suitemates who told her about Plan B. Based on her own experience with the emergency contraceptive, Jennifer’s suitemate told her what it was, how to get it and what side effects to expect.

Yet despite her suitemate’s warnings, Jennifer said she was not prepared for the intense nausea and vomiting — just two of the numerous side effects the pill can induce — that followed. Jennifer’s story was similar to those of the 11 other female students interviewed who said they have taken Plan B. Most described the experience as, at mildest, very unpleasant.

While all 24 Elis said they were aware that Plan B is available over the counter, about a third said they did not know that YUHS subsidizes it.

Although the $28 the YUHS pharmacy charges for Plan B is far less than the $47 average price charged by four New Haven drug stores surveyed by the News, many peer Universities — including Harvard — offer students the emergency pill for free.

As such, for many, the pills’ monetary cost is enough to deter one from using it as a regular form of birth control, Sue said.

Jennifer, after learning that Plan B contains the same hormone as regular birth control pills but in a higher dosage, said she figured it would be cheaper and more convenient to take four or five regular birth control pills instead of Plan B.

“It was much worse than Plan B,” she said of her homemade version’s side effects. “I would not recommend it.”

Still, Yalies agree: While nausea is temporary, the consequences of pregnancy are forever.

Annie Creager ’11, a community health educator who teaches New Haven students about sex and STDs, summarized the poll’s results: “I think it just shows how much people don’t want to be pregnant,” she said.

POST-PLAN B: YOU’RE PREGNANT

But even if Plan B is used, it is not 100 percent effective. Of the poll’s 281 female respondents, five reported they had gotten pregnant while at Yale — three of whom reported that they had terminated the pregnancy.

When a student thinks she may be pregnant and is considering terminating the pregnancy, the process is — at least superficially — straightforward. After an initial pregnancy test and consultation with an OB/GYN clinician, it does not involve YUHS, said Doreen Kutys, an account assistant at YUHS.

If the student decides to terminate a pregnancy, YUHS refers them to Planned Parenthood and is no longer in the picture: It is the student who schedules the appointment and makes the decisions, while the Yale Health Plan foots the bill.

What happens next depends on the student’s preferences and how far along the pregnancy is: If she is between five and nine weeks pregnant, she has a choice between RU-486 — a pill that ends a pregnancy by contracting the uterus — and an in-clinic surgical abortion. However, if she is between nine and 24 weeks pregnant, a surgical abortion is her only option. If she is over 24 weeks pregnant, an abortion is performed only if medically necessary.

There is no upper limit on the number of abortions a student may have covered per year by the basic Yale Health Plan, which every student is required to have.

“Our primary concern is for our students and ensuring that they have access to the care they need,” YUHS Director Paul Genecin said.

The basic undergraduate health plans at Princeton and Harvard also cover pregnancy terminations and neither school places a limit on the number a student may have performed, said John Kolligian, the executive director of Undergraduate Health Services at Princeton, and Paula Fiori, the director of operations for student health at Harvard.

Still, Choose Life at Yale, a student-run advocacy group, would like to see YUHS place a stronger emphasis on the viability of adoption as an alternative to abortion, CLAY President Caroline Swinehart ’11 said.

Nevertheless, Yale’s policy is not a unique one, added another CLAY member, Kevin Gallagher ’11.

“It is what is the default position intellectually in this country right now,” he said. “It’s nothing to be particularly surprised about.”

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