The cost of birth control: By the numbers

The Week

The burning birth-control controversies boil down to two seemingly simple questions: How much does contraception cost, and who should pay for it?

Much of the political drama and intrigue of the past month has revolved around what seems like a fairly straightforward topic: The cost of birth control. Infuriating the Catholic Church, the Obama administration declared that female contraception is sufficiently expensive that most employer-sponsored health insurance plans should offer many varieties free of charge. Tensions ratcheted up after Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke testified that the birth control pill costs a potentially onerous $1,000 a year; Rush Limbaugh and other conservative commentators said Fluke and her allies want everyone to pay for them to have lots of sex. Cue liberal outrage. But what are the facts behind the hullaballoo? Here's a look at some numbers that factor into the cost of contraception:

$9
Monthly cost of some generic versions of the birth control pill ($108 a year)

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$90
Monthly cost of some brand-name versions of the pill ($1,080 a year)

$55
Monthly cost of vaginal ring or birth-control patch ($660 a year)

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$60
Annual cost of using a diaphragm and spermicide, including mandatory doctor's exam

$150
Annual cost of using condoms, twice a week

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$220-$460
Annual cost of getting a birth control shot (Depo-Provera)

$600-$1,000
One-time cost of getting an intrauterine device (IUD) implanted (effective for up to 12 years)

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$350-$1,000
One-time cost of a vasectomy (male sterilization)

$1,500-$6,000
One-time cost of female sterilization

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$0
Up-front cost of abstinence and "fertility awareness" (rhythm method)

5
Percent of U.S. women who use an IUD, which is 99 percent effective

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75
Percent of participants in a 10,000-woman St. Louis study that chose IUDs from a range of free contraception options

80
Percent of those IUD users who have stuck with the method after a year

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50
Percent of birth control pill users in the same study who've stuck with their choice after a year

6.7 million
Pregnancies in the U.S. each year

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3.2 million
Unintended pregnancies in the U.S. each year (49 percent of total)

$12,500
Annual amount average, middle-income couples spend on each child, according to the USDA

$11.1 billion
Public funds spent on the births of unintended babies in 2006 ($6.5 billion federal, $4.6 billion states)

$7 billion
Amount Medicaid and other government programs saved in 2008 by investing $1.9 billion in family planning centers (Guttmacher Institute)

99
Percent of women age 15-44 who've had sex and used contraception at some point

50
Percent of women on the pill who say they take it for non-contraceptive health reasons (often as well as for birth control)

Sources: AP, Guttmacher Institute (2,3), Houston Chronicle, U.S. News

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