It's not 1873

Heather Bryant/Editor-in-Chief
Feb. 21, 2012

There are at least as many ways to say it as there are to do it.

Sex. Coitus. Copulation. Love-making. Screwing. Fornication.

We’ve all heard the cliché that a man thinks about sex every seven seconds, but for our national representatives it seems that the rate must be more often. No, I’m not talking about politicians having affairs, I’m talking about the sudden fixations a few prominent male politicians have with contraception for women.

Contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, including Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, cited religious freedom as their primary reason for objecting to the 2010 health care law that mandates free contraception. The rule exempted houses of worship but still required religious organizations such as universities and hospitals to offer that coverage. Obama has since offered a compromise: Those institutions won’t have to offer contraception coverage, but the insurance company itself must offer contraception and other family-planning services.

Still, that hasn’t stopped the backlash and the declarations that the law is an assault against religion.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a panel on the law last week, but did not include any women. After protest by New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, two women were included in a second panel. However, all of the speakers invited were against the mandate. A female student who was supposed to testify in favor of the mandate was turned down by committee chair Darrell Issa as she was not “appropriate and qualified.”

Many religious groups see contraception as immoral because it prevents reproduction.”The first responsibility that God has given is for procreation,” said Karl Sapp, who’s with the Campus Bible Ministries at UAF.

In 1873, the United States passed the Comstock law, which defined contraceptives as obscene and illicit. The U.S. became the only western nation to criminalize birth control. It was decades before activists were able to overturn the laws through court rulings.

It’s been nearly 140 years since that law impeded women from making decisions about their bodies and their families. The debate is still going, but the argument against contraception sounds almost the same.

Today there isn’t a law blocking access to birth control, but instead a combination of high expense and unavailability.

Contraception and other family planning services are not just for preventing pregnancies. They are about women’s health.

It’s taken to treat irregular menstrual cycles, cramps, acne, endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome, according to The Center for Young Women’s Health.  The pill also helps with anemia and can lower the risk of getting endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer and ovarian cysts.

It doesn’t matter what the religious views of any institution are, the women who work there have a right to the health services that they need, not just the ones their employer believes in.

Lucky for students at UAF, the Student Health and Counseling Center is firmly planted in the reality of women’s everyday lives and medical needs.

For students with the university health insurance plan, all contraception options at the Health Center are free, including four brands of birth control pills, the Nuva ring, Depo-Provera shots and diaphragms. If none of those options works, prescriptions are available for other brands of pills or types of contraception. The Health Center can also refer students to Planned Parenthood. Services are available to students without the insurance plan, but there are fees for prescriptions and some services.

It’s not possible to say whether the availability of adequate care has reduced the number of pregnancies at UAF, but BJ Aldrich said the Health Center usually only sees one or two unplanned pregnancies a year. Aldrich is the director of the campus Health Center.

“It’s amazed me how few unplanned pregnancies I’ve seen in my 10 years here,” Aldrich said. There is no way to know how many students seek off-campus treatment.

Students also have access to Plan B, known as the morning-after pill.

Plan B is most commonly a two-pill treatment to be taken after unprotected sex that can prevent an unplanned pregnancy. There is a newer one-pill treatment that is now being phased in. It is not an abortion pill and will not affect women who are already pregnant. Plan B works by preventing fertilization, according to the Food and Drug Administration. If fertilization does occur, Plan B may prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the womb.

Plan B is available for $15 at the Health Center without an appointment or prescription. Students only need to fill out a short form to make sure Plan B is the right medication.

“It’s definitely a service students take advantage of,” Aldrich said, adding that the Health Center gets approximately three people a week requesting the medication. Most requests come from people who use condoms and the condom breaks, Aldrich said. She usually handles the requests.

“It’s a service we are happy to provide, ” Aldrich said.

One university has even gone a step further in accessibility by making Plan B available in a special vending machine. Students at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania can purchase Plan B for $25 from a vending machine that also sells condoms and pregnancy tests. The machine is located in the medical center where students have swipe-card access, keeping the machine off-limits to the general public. Despite recent national attention, the university has no plans to remove Plan B from the machine.

None of us are students forever, though, and many won’t have this much access to important medical care after graduation. Over the past year there have been numerous political barriers put between women, their health care and their right to privacy.

In 2011, 24 states enacted 83 pieces of legislation regarding abortion, according to the Washington Post. Seven states now require an ultrasound, or the offer of one, prior to the procedure. Eight will no longer allow private insurance plans to cover the procedure. A handful of states are still trying to prevent abortion providers, such as Planned Parenthood, from receiving government funds, even for the non-abortion services they provide. Several states are also requiring a waiting period, making an already difficult situation for women even worse. The state of Virginia is working on a bill requiring an invasive ultrasound.

Former Huffington Post editor Hilary Rosen summed up the current political spectacle quite well: “This issue is about men deciding that their medical needs are purely ‘medical’ and yet women’s medical needs are somehow subject to a political equation.”

It’s time for everyone to pay attention to what’s happening on a national level. In less than nine months it will be time to vote again. Universities have always served as testing grounds for new ideas and social structures. However, we need to act beyond just the scope of the university structure in order to protect women’s access to adequate and fair medical coverage no matter what their beliefs may be.

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