Earlier this year, Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke brought national attention to the decades-old debate over whether or not student health insurance plans at Catholic universities should cover birth control. Fluke testified on the Hill that contraception should be covered and gave a series of reasons why.
Then conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh called her a “slut” and a “prostitute” for holding such opinions. That launched a different sort of debate. Then Limbaugh apologized, and outrage on both sides mostly died down.
But the original debate is far from over at Georgetown.
Students who get their health insurance through the university are still paying full-price for their birth control pills and other forms of contraception, rather than the usual co-pay assigned to prescriptions. While all students are required to have health insurance, they are not required to have the one offered by the university. Still, many students — especially older graduate and law school students — find the university plan the most convenient and affordable.
Starting in August, all health insurance providers will be required to cover contraception as part of health-care reform, but religious colleges and institutions can file for a one-year extension.
Georgetown President John J. DeGioia has been receiving pressure from numerous sides of the issue, including those wanting coverage immediately, those wanting to wait until 2013, and those wanting Georgetown to fight the mandate using whatever means possible.
In a letter to a law school professor dated April 10, which was released to the Post on Friday, DeGioia wrote, "We do not intend to change Georgetown’s longstanding practice of excluding contraceptive coverage for the purposes of birth control from its student health insurance offerings unless explicitly required to do so by law.”
DeGioia also pointed out in the letter that law students have the option of purchasing health insurance from a third-party provider, such as a plan offered by the American Bar Association.
On Wednesday, Fluke and more than 780 of her classmates sent a letter to university administrators that urged them not to wait until 2013 to add coverage of contraception.
“To maintain its place as one of the country’s premier law schools, it is crucial that Georgetown act to ensure that no student again suffers unnecessary health complications” as the result of not having access to affordable birth control, states a copy of the letter posted on the Web site of the Georgetown Law Weekly, which first reported the news. “We ask that you treat students as autonomous adults by complying with the new legal mandate” in August.
The Georgetown University Law Center has about 2,000 enrolled students and is near Union Station, not on Georgetown’s main campus. So far, more than 780 of the students have signed the letter, with Fluke being the first.
The letter states that more law students are expected to add their names, and similar movements are happening in graduate and undergraduate programs.
But there are also movements afoot to support the university in its adherence to Catholic doctrine, which forbids the use of contraception.
Earlier this week, a group of more than 100 students and alumni sent an open letter to DeGioia and asked him to publicly clarify his position on the health-care mandate, according to the Hoya student newspaper.
A student who is a member of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic men’s group, told the Hoya that he wants to know if Georgetown will “comply with the regulations by fall 2012, file for a one-year religious exemption or follow several other Catholic universities in suing the federal government over the perceived deprivation of religious liberty.”
The letter urged the university to properly explain its student health-care plan to the general public, especially the provision that allows for the coverage of birth control pills used to treat medical conditions and not to prevent pregnancy.
The open letter also criticized a university-sponsored lecture on Monday that featured Fluke, who has been the most visible advocate on this issue, having logged hours of commentary on national television in defending herself and her opinions. At the lecture, Fluke’s comments centered on student access to contraception and the fine-print details of the student health insurance plan. The event was moderated by a public policy professor.
The letter-senders criticized the Catholic university for providing a forum for “Fluke to promote her views which are contrary to Church teaching,” according to a copy of the letter that was posted on the Family Research Council blog. “If an equal opportunity is not provided for the virtues of the Church’s teachings on sexuality and contraception to be presented, any hope of an adequately informed student body will be lost and we will have not achieved a true dialogue.”