03/08/2012 01:06 pm ET Updated Mar 09, 2012

Craigslist Contraception: Women Pushed To Buy Birth Control On Black Market

When Lisa's monthly out-of-pocket costs for birth control rose 20 percent to $30 in December, it became too much. The 35-year-old switched to a cheaper method and advertised her leftover NuvaRings, still in the original packaging, on Craigslist.

Lisa, who lives in San Francisco, is hardly the only woman selling contraception on Craigslist. The online marketplace is filled with ads for discounted birth control, including many types of contraceptive pills as well as the NuvaRing, an insertable rubber ring with hormones slowly released over a month's period.

Because the practice of selling prescription drugs online is illegal, Lisa did not want The Huffington Post to use her real name.

"I am aware that NuvaRing without insurance can be very expensive," she told The Huffington Post in an email. "That is why I have decided to sell it online and help out other woman." Lisa sold her two unopened packages of the NuvaRing for $75 earlier this week. Without insurance, each one can cost as much as $80.

Birth control costs have been in the spotlight lately as groups battle over whether insurance companies should be required to foot the bill for contraception. President Barack Obama has pressed for legislation that would require health insurance companies to cover the cost of birth control. Some organizations with religious affiliations, however, strongly object to his proposal.

The resulting uproar appeared to peak last week after conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh insulted a Georgetown Law student who supported the president's plan. On Wednesday afternoon, New Hampshire's House of Representatives passed a bill to repeal a state mandate for employers to provide insurance coverage for contraception.

The annual cost for a woman to purchase hormone-based contraception like the birth control pill or NuvaRing can range from free to as much as $1,800 depending on whether an insurance plan subsidizes part of it. There are some health clinics around the country that provide free contraception.

"When women are pushed against a wall, they will take action on their own," Dr. Vanessa Cullins, vice president for medical affairs at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in an interview last year. For nearly all women, birth control pills and emergency contraception are very safe to use, she added. Her primary safety concern for those who acquire pills through back channels is the possibility of tampering or that the medication might have expired.

Tens of millions of women stand to save hundreds of dollars each year depending on the pending legislation.

But the economic effects may be even more far reaching. Studies have shown that women who delay marriage and childbearing by using birth control typically obtain a better education and work opportunities and make more money overall, as The New York Times reported, which also pointed out that one study suggested the birth control pill narrowed the earnings gap between men and women in the 1990s by 30 percent.

UPDATE: This story was updated to include information that free birth control is available at certain clinics around the country.