Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Reproductive rights on campus


This past February, the state government of Oklahoma passed its Personhood Act, stating that life begins at the moment of conception, and as a result, potentially restricting access to birth control and abortions.

The state of Ohio is currently debating its “Heartbeat Bill,” a proposal outlawing abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected – which often occurs six or seven weeks into a pregnancy, or before most women even know they’re pregnant.

Just this past week, measures that would allow employers to refuse to cover birth control or other forms of contraception in health insurance coverage gained traction in the Arizona legislature.

The nation is having a national conversation on reproductive health and rights – whether people want to or not. At the state and federal level, debates over birth control and abortion have become the primary social issue in the country, and policy over the topic is hotly debated.

It may be tempting as students at the University of Massachusetts to brush aside the discussion as one only relevant in socially conservative areas of the country. After all, Oklahoma, Ohio and Arizona are far to the right of Massachusetts, and as such, no similar bills have gained any sort of momentum in the socially liberal Bay State.

But this issue hits closer to home than many UMass students may realize: our campus has had its own debate over health care in recent months with the cuts to University Health Services, which would include closing the UHS pharmacy. If the pharmacy closes, student access to emergency contraception like Plan B will be considerably restricted. The University’s only response to the closure of the pharmacy is to tell us to head off-campus to CVS, indifferent to the fact that emergency contraception works better the sooner it is taken. It is entirely possible that the closure of the UHS pharmacy could lead to more unwanted pregnancies at the University.

Fortunately, a committee tasked with reviewing the cuts to UHS, which includes Student Government President Yevin Roh and President-elect Akshay Kapoor, has submitted alternative proposals that would keep the pharmacy intact. In the context of protecting women’s health rights at UMass and in the Amherst community, it behooves the University to accept these proposals and preserve the UHS pharmacy.

The fight is not over, of course, but this battle shows why the struggle for reproductive health is important and how it affects all members of the community. This is why the conversation about birth control is significant, and understanding the reasons behind its current prominence are so imperative.

The genesis behind the birth control and abortion debate is the health care reform legislation passed by the United States government in 2010, properly known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act but widely known as simply “Obamacare.” Obamacare launched health insurance into the forefront of the national consciousness, and with it came the question of health insurance and birth control.

The debate is politics at its finest, of course. Opponents to health care reform needed an inflammatory issue with which to rile up allies to their cause, and settled on the issue of whether employers should have to provide health insurance to workers who would then use that insurance to buy birth control.

Social conservatives ideologically opposed to birth control took up arms and rallied around the mantra of religious liberty, the idea being that an employee taking birth control covered by insurance is infringing upon the religious freedom of an employer with religious objections to birth control. By using social conservatives to directly attack reproductive health rights and access, health care reform opponents are indirectly attacking Obamacare.

Why pick reproductive health access as the battleground? Because reproductive health is still widely seen as a “women’s issue” in this country, and in our patriarchal, male-dominated society, women’s rights are still an easy target.

Our lawmakers are overwhelmingly men, and it is easy for them to attempt to use their male privilege to restrict women’s reproductive rights. The fingerprints of male privilege are all over the reproductive health care debate, as shown when female State Senator Nina Turner of Ohio mockingly introduced a bill to restrict access to men’s sexual medication, and it received absolutely no support.

In light of this debate, and the oral arguments heard in the Supreme Court regarding the case against Obamacare this week, the fight over health care reform in this country is clearly not over. Again, this issue hits close to home for UMass students, who saw their Student Health Insurance Plan converted into a 15 percent co-insurance plan that could cost students additional thousands of dollars in coverage.

As students, it is important to fight for the reproductive health of women in this country. At stake is not just access to Plan B or some savings on medication, but the rights of women nationwide, and the very health care reforms that our country has needed for so long.

Billy Rainsford is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].

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  • M

    Meghan BoeschApr 2, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    To David Hunt:

    Insurance covers a wide variety of treatments that manage an individuals behavior. Why do insurance companies cover medicines for high blood pressure when many Americans could just eat healthier overall and avoid the medication altogether? Under your logic, insurance companies should have to screen Lipitor recipients to ensure that they are eating healthy and exercising. We don’t. I don’t feel like paying for people’s poor eating habits. I also don’t feel like paying for people who smoke, and want me to cover the cost of their hospital stay for emphysema. I don’t go on a crusade to force people who, in my opinion, make bad decisions, to pay for their treatment. Yet, people such as yourself have focused in on sexuality as your cause of choice. Why? You don’t get to pick and choose what treatments people get to have. If you want to regulate people’s behavior, be consistent please.

  • M

    Meghan LemayApr 2, 2012 at 9:59 am

    Great article!! Thank you for writing it!

  • D

    David Hunt '90Mar 30, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    We’re not opposed to birth control. We’re opposed to having the government FORCE US to pay for others to use it.

    What’s the pill cost these days? $9-$10 a month? Condoms and foam – per a recent scan at the local CVS where I live, costs less than $2 a “pop” (condoms and foam). Assuming the man has any sort of ethics, it’s split 50-50. Assuming once a day, “day in and day out”, that’s – what – $15 a month?

    For the pill, there are many LEGITIMATE reasons for its medical use that have nothing to do with birth control, and these can be legimiately debated.

    In sum: If you can’t afford $15 a month or so for your sexual requirements, I suggest you need to re-arrange your budget and/or prioritize. What’s next? Demanding the public fund you for the movies you watch every month?