When I was in college, I was on the pill, and every month I would dutifully make the trek down to the student health center, where I would get a refill on my prescription. The refills cost me five dollars; a small price to pay to avoid getting pregnant at a time when a baby would have derailed my entire future.
When I went to law school, one of the first things I did after moving in was visit the student health center, where I had a checkup and asked for a new prescription for my birth control pills. But instead of a quick nod and a scribble on an Rx pad, I was told sorry, but birth control wasn’t sanctioned by the University, and it wasn’t available at student health. You see, I attended Georgetown, which is a Jesuit school. I knew that Georgetown was a Catholic university when I applied, but I also knew that, like me, a good portion of the student body wasn’t Catholic. Aside from offering a few classes taught by priests and having crosses in some of the classrooms, it simply never occurred to me that my life would be impacted by the religious leaning of the school in any way. Perhaps I was naïve, but in any event, I was stunned by the policy.
Not to be deterred, however, I called my gynecologist back home and got a prescription, which I took down to the Rite Aid on the corner. The cost for a refill: forty dollars. It may not sound like a lot of money, but I was paying for school with grants and loans, and forty dollars was about half of my spending money each week. I simply couldn’t afford it. However, after mentioning my predicament to a few of my new law school friends, someone told me about Planned Parenthood, and how you could get the pill there for way less than at a pharmacy. So I went, and for the next three years I continued to get my pills there for about the same as what I’d been paying in college.
The reason I mention this is because I was reminded of this chapter in life by the recent, twin uproars in the news lately: namely, the Komen Foundation’s announcement that it would stop it’s funding to Planned Parenthood, as well as the Obama administration’s plan that would require Catholic universities and hospitals that receive government funding to pay for employee health care plans offering free contraception. Now, I get that the Catholic Church feels it shouldn’t be subjected to such a rule. And frankly, if there are other options for female employees of Catholic institutions to get low-cost birth control, then I don’t think it’s such a big deal. What disturbs me, however, is that Planned Parenthood, the most visible and prominent of these “other options,” is in real danger. Last summer, if you recall, Congress was threatening to cut government funding to Planned Parenthood all together, and there is still a powerful contingent in Washington that would like nothing more than to see that happen, as evidenced by Komen’s initial decision to stop giving money to Planned Parenthood – which, as has become fairly clear, was done as a result of political pressure from the right, and not because of the bogus excuse that Komen didn’t want to fund organizations that are under criminal investigation.
The point here is that if Planned Parenthood continues to be under attack from the right and were ultimately to lose it’s funding, then it’s not just an organization that’s at risk. You see, this is way beyond a woman’s right to choose about whether to have an abortion. Abortions account for only three percent of Planned Parenthood’s services.
This is, rather, about access to birth control – a fundamental right of women to be able to make their own decisions about whether and when to get pregnant. This is about something so profoundly important to women that it’s credited with changing the entire trajectory of women’s roles in modern society. And it isn’t just of concern to women who work at Catholic institutions, either. It’s of concern to poor women, it’s of concern to uninsured women, and it’s of concern to students who can’t afford a regular prescription for birth control pills. This is important. And it’s scary. And as women, it should concern all of us.