A third would share that she and her husband had to stop using contraception because they can’t spare $100 per month. Steeped in graduate school debt, they are worried because they can’t afford a baby, either.
The last would have explained that, when she couldn’t afford contraception, she lost an ovary. She has polycystic ovarian syndrome, and contraception prevents cysts from growing. She paid for contraception as long as she could, but the money eventually ran out. She awoke in excruciating pain and had to undergo surgery to remove her ovary because a tennis ball-sized cyst had grown on it. Doctors are concerned that, at 32, she may be in early menopause and unable to conceive children.
These women are real students at Georgetown, a Jesuit university that does not cover contraception on its student insurance. They are a few of the thousands of women who work and study at religiously-affiliated institutions. They are the ones who will benefit from the recently announced regulation requiring contraception coverage in insurance plans. And they are the women who were silenced in favor of an exclusively male perspective on contraception at a Congressional hearing two weeks ago.
Their stories were not told at the hearing because Chairman Darrell Issa of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform refused to let me testify on their behalf. He didn’t think that I was an appropriate witness, even though I have actually seen the faces and heard the stories of the women affected by a lack of contraception coverage.
Who did he think was qualified to testify? Apparently, ten representatives from religious institutions, who all object to the contraception regulation as an affront to their religious freedom. One witness, Bishop William Lori from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, used his entire testimony to describe a “hypothetical nation.” The bishop’s testimony is based on a fictitious nation, but my testimony is about the lives of real women. Their stories of financial, emotional, and medical hardship are true.
Thankfully, the recently announced regulation already addresses religious concerns while meeting the medical needs of the 99% of sexually active women who use contraception during their lives. The regulation exempts houses of worship, and through the recently announced adjustment, no religiously-affiliated institution, like a university or hospital, that opposes contraception will have to pay for it. Instead, health insurance companies will provide the coverage directly to the insured. This makes fiscal sense--covering contraception is cheaper than covering pregnancy and childbirth. The adjustment removes religious institutions from the contraception coverage decision, while guaranteeing that women’s health needs are met. That’s why the president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges, the Catholic Health Association, and other religious entities support it.
The regulation must not be altered by the Rubio, Blunt, or Fortenberry legislation. It violates my conscience – as it should the American conscience – to know that, otherwise, by letting employers or universities rather than women and their doctors dictate whose medical needs are legitimate, we would be expecting women to choose between higher education or employment and their fertility and general health.
Thanks to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, Representative Elijah Cummings, and Representative Carolyn Maloney, I was able to tell the stories of real women at a follow-up hearing last week. Now that they have been heard, it would be unconscionable for our elected officials to ignore them.
Fluke is a former president of Georgetown Law Students for Reproductive Justice. Kelly Percival who also contributed to this piece, is the current president of Georgetown Law Students for Reproductive Justice.