Katran Packard, a student at Austin Community College, said she hoped not to get pregnant before her expected graduation in December.
“And now we’re having a baby in December,” said the business administration student and mother of two.
For Packard, 28, it has been a battle to find birth control for several years. While living in Austin, she got Injections of Depo-Provera – an effective form of birth control – at a Planned Parenthood clinic. After moving about 80 miles to Caldwell in 2011, she was unable to continue the injections as the clinic was too far away and she could no longer afford them. Instead, Packard said, she turned to condoms and the withdrawal method to avoid pregnancy.
Packard, who had her first baby after becoming pregnant at 18, said financial barriers and lack of access to clinics prevent her from getting the birth control she wants.
She is not alone. A new study from the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin found that women in Texas community colleges use condoms and withdrawal even though they would prefer to use more effective methods like intrauterine devices or IUDs and birth control pills.
“What this tells us is that we could be doing a better job – we, like in colleges, clinics – could be doing a better job of helping women get the most effective methods they want to use” said Kristine Hopkins, lead author of the report, which surveyed more than 1,000 women at Texas community colleges in fall 2014 and spring 2015.
The withdrawal method and condoms are among the least effective forms of contraception. A couple using the weaning method has a 22% chance of becoming pregnant within a year; for condoms, it’s 18%. More effective methods include IUDs (0.05%) and contraceptive implants (0.2%).
The report found that 38 percent of women surveyed had no health insurance. Nationally, 13.5% of community college students and 3.5% of college students overall are not insured.
In 2011, GOP state leaders barred Planned Parenthood from state programs that supported family planning services, resulting in the closure of several clinics across the state. These closures may partly explain why only 7 percent of women surveyed cited Planned Parenthood as their source of care, according to the report.
The study also found that 59% of uninsured community college women have no usual source of care for reproductive health services. Among community college women with private health insurance, 27% had no source of care.
Hopkins called those numbers “striking.” For sexually active women, getting services such as birth control, pap smears, and testing for sexually transmitted infections is vital. But for many women, getting pregnant is the first time they come into contact with reproductive health services, Hopkins said.
While community college women seek more effective birth control, they may not find it at their campus health center, the report said.
For example, the Dallas County Community College District does not have doctors in its health clinics and does not provide prescriptions for drugs like birth control. For example, clinic nurses refer students to doctors and outpatient clinics for IUDs and other contraceptives. Linda Skidmore is one such nurse. She said some of her students couldn’t afford more effective methods of contraception or perhaps didn’t know how to find a doctor.
Skidmore provides students with condoms and encourages them to “make their own decisions” about the type of contraception they want to use.
In contrast, a neighboring four-year university – the University of North Texas at Dallas – provides women’s health services at its student health and wellness center, providing birth control pills and IUDs, according to its website.
The report offered recommendations for colleges, such as providing pregnancy prevention information during orientations or connecting students to family planning services for low-income women, such as the federal grant program. Title X or the state’s family planning program, both of which cater to the uninsured and undocumented.
“Community college students are trying to improve their lives,” Hopkins said. “And an unplanned pregnancy and an unplanned birth can really derail their educational goals.”
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin, the Texas State University System, Planned Parenthood, and the Austin Community College District financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations of members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a full list here.
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