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Boston College Alumni: Why Our Alma Mater Is Wrong for Denying Access to Sexual Health Care

11:56 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Lindsey Hennawi, Scott Jelinek and Alicia Johnson for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Condoms

Condoms

Four years ago, the vast majority (90 percent) of students at Boston College (BC), a Catholic university, voted in favor of having access to sexual health-care education and resources, including contraceptives, on campus. We are proud to have been among the passionate group of students who led that campaign and formed the unofficial student group Boston College Students for Sexual Health (BCSSH). But we quickly learned that the university would ignore the overwhelming call for reform.

Safe Sites is one of the programs we designed to meet students’ need for sexual health care. Boston College administrators knew it existed and let it operate under the radar for years—until this month. Now, their shocking backlash against the program is inspiring news coverage around the world.

The Boston College administration recently sent letters to Safe Sites locations threatening disciplinary action for distributing condoms. Speaking publicly this week, Boston College spokesperson Jack Dunn speculated that students who continue to provide condoms to their peers could face expulsion from the university.

Expulsion. From a major American university. In the 21st century.

As three recent grads who have all gone on to pursue careers in health education and advocacy, we strongly condemn the administration’s abrupt and cowardly interference with students’ attempts to educate their peers and provide them with the tools they need to lead healthy lives. All people deserve access to the information and resources they need to make informed decisions about their own health, including students at a Catholic university.

Why? Because one in two sexually active people will get a sexually transmitted disease by age 25. Half of all women will experience an unplanned pregnancy. And don’t even try to use the “Catholic universities are different” argument; 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women will use contraception in their lifetime.

So since the university isn’t willing to provide sexual health information and resources to its students, who better to step up and do so than students themselves?

We are so proud of the students of BCSSH who continue to fight for health-care access on the BC campus. The BC administration’s threats against them are an embarrassment for an institution that prides itself on being a “new Ivy.” BC is in its sesquicentennial year, but still has so far to go. And making public statements threatening to expel students is a surefire way to discourage new applicants.

Have no doubt: If what is happening today had happened during our senior year of high school, we would not have chosen to attend BC. And we say this as scholarship recipients and student leaders—the kind of young people BC should and does endeavor to recruit.

Still, we often find ourselves defending our alma mater. For all its backwards policies, BC did challenge us to develop and defend strong convictions and to organize effectively in an environment hostile to our cause. But it’s time we stopped backing BC up. The administration’s actions are indefensible.

People ask why “radicals” like us would choose to attend a Catholic university in the first place. We believe college students should not have to choose between the world-class education that BC offers and having their health needs met.

Further, we chose to go to a Catholic university, not the Catholic Church. We were never warned that students who advocate for basic health-care access would be silenced and undermined at every turn. In every tour and orientation, student guides proclaim that BC is a welcoming campus for people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives.

We know now that isn’t true.

It wasn’t true when a conservative student who used the “Holy Father’s teachings” to justify his claim that condoms have no impact on curbing the spread of HIV was invited to the same sexual health policy meeting we, as BCSSH board members, attended with BC administrators; he was given the same platform and afforded the same legitimacy.

It wasn’t true when another student organization on campus was punished for collaborating with BCSSH for a World AIDS Day event.

It wasn’t true when a campus priest harassed BCSSH volunteers during a routine condom distribution off campus.

It isn’t true while the Pro-Life Club is a recognized, funded student organization and BCSSH is not.

It isn’t true when students can’t rely on the campus health center for accurate, evidence-based, judgment-free health information and treatment.

And it isn’t true now, as the administration proves once again how little it cares for the health, wellness, and autonomy of the very students it’s charged with representing and protecting.

We always used to lament that “change is glacial” at BC, but now it’s going backwards. It’s disgraceful that the administration chooses to interpret its Catholic mission so limitedly. To us, BC’s motto, “Ever to Excel,” its commitment to social justice, and its call for students to act as “men and women for others” do not entail the judgment, shaming, or repression the administration is showing to BC Students for Sexual Health.

Boston College encouraged us to follow St. Ignatius of Loyola’s creed to “set the world aflame,” to fill it with the light of our passion, intellect, and hope in order to change it for the better. Perhaps it’s time the school takes its own advice.

You can sign a petition showing your support for BC Students for Sexual Health here.
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For It Before They Were Against It: Catholic Universities and Birth Control

3:00 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Bridgette Dunlap for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Birth control pills

Some Catholic universities were historic supporters of contraception.

If you weren’t eagerly checking the bishops’ blog for their feelings on your health insurance, you may not have known last week was Catholic Schools Week! I generally don’t participate in the bishops’ weeks (or fortnights), but I think this is an ideal moment to highlight the proud history of advocacy for contraceptive access at Catholic-affiliated Universities — which is relevant to all those lawsuits that won’t be going away now that His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan has spoken.

We begin at Notre Dame in 1966. Faculty members formed a group to advocate for government funding of family planning programs and advertised a statement of support in Catholic publications. They received over 500 signatures in under a month from Catholic clergy, nuns, lawyers, doctors, and faculty members  at Catholic universities, including the deans of Notre Dame and Santa Clara’s law schools. The Notre Dame professor chairing the committee told the New York Times the group wished to emphasize that “in a pluralistic society, some legislation may be desirable even though it may not be in accord with the moral principles of a minority of the society’s members.”

The chairman explained that the impetus for the group’s formation had been an address by the Rev. Dexter L. Hanley to the American Bar Association arguing for government family planning programs. Father Hanley was a law professor at Georgetown University. Yes, that Georgetown. The same Georgetown that trained a lawyer named Sandra Fluke. Father Hanley also testified before a congressional subcommittee in support of access to contraception. So when Sandra Fluke did the same thing, not only was she acting like a lawyer, which is presumably what one attends Georgetown Law to learn to do, she was following in the footsteps of a revered Georgetown professor and priest who had inspired Catholics across the country to take action.

Though Fluke is regularly accused of demanding government funding for contraception, what she actually testified about was the sub-par plan available to Georgetown students (who are required to have health insurance). Typically, student health plans involve students paying money to a third-party health insurance company; neither government nor university funds are involved in these transactions. Father Hanley, however, was indeed advocating for taxpayer-funded contraception and education. He acknowledged Catholic teaching against contraception but testified that he could firmly maintain his moral positions as a Catholic while supporting a government program that “permits each citizen a fully free moral choice in matters of family planning, and aids him in implementing this choice.”

Today, rather than permitting its students a “fully free moral choice” as Father Hanley advocated, Georgetown has taken advantage of the safe harbor from the contraceptive coverage requirements, claiming it has a religious belief that bars providing insurance that covers contraception. This is hard to believe given that faculty members’ health plans have included contraceptive coverage for years. Also, Georgetown hosted an excellent conference on the Health and Human Services regulation where most scholars rejected the claim that providing coverage violated Catholic doctrine or that requiring it violated the law. The robust defenses of Sandra Fluke from the University President and the law school faculty were lovely, but fixing the problem she testified about is what’s needed.

Let’s return to Notre Dame. From 1963 to 1967 Notre Dame held an annual “Conference on Population.” The conference, organized with the help of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, was intended from its inception to be a forum to develop a more liberal Catholic position on contraception. In 1965, thirty-seven scholars who attended the conference sent a statement to the Pope that declared “[t]here is dependable evidence that contraception is not intrinsically immoral, and that therefore there are certain circumstances in which it may be permitted or indeed even recommended.” Notre Dame’s President, Father Theodore Hesburgh, later got his friend John D. Rockefeller a secret meeting with the Pope to discuss the problem of overpopulation.

Despite this history, the University has now claimed in its lawsuit that Notre Dame, whoever that is, has a sincere religious belief that the Church’s “centuries’ old teachings” prohibit coverage. This is despite the fact that its own theology students and faculty can’t get their questions answered about what the theological claim for the prohibition of contraceptive coverage is and people like Kathleen Kaveny, a professor of both law and theology at Notre Dame, have argued the legality of the mandate in detail. A further troubling sign from an institution that was once the place for principled discussion of contraception, is that Notre Dame’s website refers students to what appears to be a “Crisis Pregnancy Center.” When I called up the “Women’s Care Center,” they told me they do not actually have doctors on staff or prescribe contraception.

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Contraception: Expand Access, Not Exemptions

10:55 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Open Access - Don't Limit It! (Image: wakingtiger, flickr)

Open Access - Don't Limit It! (Image: wakingtiger, flickr)

Written by Jessica Arons for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

This article is cross-posted with permission from ThinkProgress Health.

As the Obama Administration debates whether to expand an exemption to a new health insurance requirement to cover all FDA-approved methods of contraception, there are some important facts to keep in mind:

– The average woman spends five years pregnant, postpartum, or trying to get pregnant, and at least 30 years trying to avoid pregnancy.

More than 99 percent of women of reproductive age who have had sexual intercourse have used at least one method of family planning.

– Contraception is the most commonly prescribed medication for women ages 18 to 44

Eighty-eight percent of voters support access to birth control

– Approximately three-quarters of Americans agree that insurance should cover contraception

Fifty-eight percent of pill users rely on oral contraception at least in part for non-contraceptive reasons

Eighteen percent of women on the pill reported inconsistent use, such as skipping doses, as a cost-cutting measure

Under the Affordable Care Act, or the ACA, women will benefit from greatly expanded access to contraception—which has been shown to improve health. But this important consumer protection is at risk of being undermined by an unreasonably expansive religious exemption. Read the rest of this entry →

Will Obama’s Thanksgiving Gift to Female Voters Be a Tax on Women’s Healthcare?

11:44 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Here Come The Puritans (Photo: sidknee, flickr)

Here Come The Puritans (Photo: sidknee, flickr)

Written by Editor-in-Chief Jodi Jacobson for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

See all our coverage of the Birth Control Mandate 2011 here.

The first paragraph of this piece was updated at 2:25 pm, Wednesday, November 23, 2011 to clarify that the coverage in question would affect women working for religious and quasi-religious organizations.

Women’s groups working to save coverage of women’s health care under health reform are concerned that President Obama will cave as early as this weekend to demands by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (all 271 men) to eliminate coverage of birth control without a co-pay by so expanding the current exemption for churches that  millions of women who work for organizations affiliated with the Church and other anti-choice groups who claim a religious leaning would be denied coverage.

The reason? The President thinks he “owes” the Bishops for help with passage of health reform.

Really?  See… I thought this President was elected primarily by the hard work and support of women, Latinos, African Americans, and young people.  And the data back me up.  Young voters and Latinos were credited with giving Obama a “commanding victory” in 2008 and, according to post-election analysis, unmarried women were an “even greater source of support.” From USA Today:

Unmarried women—a group that includes single, separated, divorced, or widowed women—voted for Obama over Republican opponent John McCain by a whopping 70 to 29 percent in yesterday’s election, according to numbers released today by Women’s Voices Women Vote, a nonpartisan organization.

Female voters made up 53 percent of all voters responsible for Obama’s victory in 2008. Read the rest of this entry →

Religious Exemptions and Contraceptive Coverage: How Far Can Denial Go and Still Be Constitutional?

9:09 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Photobucket

Written by Annamarya Scaccia for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

A change was made to this article at 11:48 am, Friday September 30th to include a missing piece of the following sentence: “The points raised in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ letter may be flawed at best. In its attempt to underscore the narrowness of the religious exemption, the group cites the Church Amendment to the “Health Programs Extension Act of 1973,” as evidence of long-standing federal conscience protections.”

New guidelines applied August 1 by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to the Affordable Care Act, requiring that employers include coverage of women’s preventive care, including birth control have drawn fierce opposition from the religious.

The new guidelines require all new private insurance plans to cover preventive services—including, for example, breast exams and pap smears, maternity care, HPV testing, gestational diabetes screening and breastfeeding support—sans co-payment, co-insurance or a deductible and without cost-sharing. The guidelines, which go into effect as of August 1, 2012, also require coverage without a co-pay of FDA-approved contraception and contraceptive counseling. And there’s the rub. The Guttmacher Institute recently reported that 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women have used modern forms of birth control banned by the Catholic Church hierarchy, yet some Catholic organizations are crying foul over the birth control mandate.

Based on language from conscience clauses found in 28 states, non-profit religious institutions that exist for religious purposes, and primarily employ and serve those who share their religious values can opt out of offering contraceptive coverage in their group health plans. The HHS opened the interim policy for public comment for 60 days since the announcement, which closes on Friday, September 30. Read the rest of this entry →