Letters to University show campus divide on birth control

April 26, 2012

Law student Sandra Fluke has led the charge for birth control coverage for students

In the past two weeks, President John J. DeGioia has received two letters from groups of students, both on Georgetown’s Main Campus and the Law Campus, concerning the current debate over the University providing birth control under the student health care plan.

The first letter, spearheaded by law student Matthew Sheptuck (LAW ’13), was sent to DeGioia on April 17. Signed by 102 undergraduates, graduate students, and alumni stretching back to the 1950s, the letter professed a desire for the University to clarify its position on the birth control debate, and expressed the hope that Georgetown would stay true to its Jesuit and Catholic heritage.

“[The letter] was basically to call on the University to clarify and reaffirm its current policy on the issue and basically to restate the University’s rich pro-life legacy,” Sheptuck said.

Sheptuck and other signatories believe that the dialogue concerning student contraceptive access via campus health care plans has largely omitted or ignored a subset of the student population.These student groups feel that Fluke’s recent campus visit should have presented an opportunity for campus discussion on the contentious issue instead of just allowing her to voice her own opinions.

“We hope that there will be further dialogue on [the issue], that was one of the main reasons we wrote the letter,” Kevin Sullivan (SFS ’14), a signatory of the letter and board member of the Georgetown chapter of the Roman Catholic fraternal service organization Knights of Columbus, said. “We want an open dialogue as opposed to having a one-sided dialogue, so that we can all be on same ground of discussing. We’re looking for the University to clarify its position so that we can continue with an informed, open dialogue.”

The second letter was written by law students Sandra Fluke (LAW ‘12), Christina Postolowski (LAW ‘12), and Kelly Percival (LAW ‘13), and has been signed by 780 law students, almost of the campus. The letter, which was sent to DeGioia last Thursday, focuses on how, under the Affordable Care Act,  Georgetown could wait an extra year to add birth control to its student health care plans because it is considered a religious institution. The letter sought to encourage University leaders not to delay, but instead to add birth control to the 2012 plan.

“We wanted to show Georgetown that there was a lot of student support for contraception coverage.” said Postolowski. “We want to encourage them to cover contraception in 2012.”

Percival added that, “We want to make sure that the University doesn’t make a decision without hearing the students.”

Fluke agreed with these points but also focused on the importance of adding contraception to the health care plan for the well-being of Georgetown students. “Women have those health care needs now and the University should be putting their welfare first,” Fluke wrote in an email. “The current insurance plan is inadequate for them and plagued with breakdowns.”

While the letter was signed entirely by law students, undergraduate groups such as H*yas for Choice have been working to increase student involvement on Georgetown’s main campus.

“We have a similar version of the petition [from the law students] going around for the main campus,” Laura Narefsky (COL ’14), Publicity Director for H*yas for Choice, said. “We’re hoping to send it in to the administration before the end of school.”

The University has acknowledged the receipt of both letters, but has not responded to either. It has yet to release a statement concerning the school’s official stance on the issue, though in an email Assistant Vice President for Communications Stacy Kerr recognized that leaders have heard from groups on all sides of the issue.

“The leadership of the University is grateful for the respectful dialogue that students and faculty with differing views have engaged in over the past few months,” wrote Kerr. “We are continuing to consider this issue thoughtfully and are following the legislative process carefully.”

Although students involved understand the University’s desire to take time to consider the subject, many think that it needs to participate in the discussiowwn as well.

“All of us, including the University, stand with DeGioia in his calling for a legitimate dialogue about the subject,” Stephen Levy (SFS ‘13), Deputy Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus and another signatory of the first letter, said. “We’re just asking the University to participate as well. It can be impartial but it can’t be invisible, that’s unfair to students.”

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