I was impressed with how the Fluke Debacle morphed over the last week. It was bizarre, really. What was a young woman noting that reproductive health was something worthy of coverage by Healthcare Plans somehow became a Young whore wanting the government to pay her for sex.
It was not all Rush Limbaugh’s fault, mind you. Conservatives came out in droves to decry how shameful it was that this you woman wanted tax payers to pay for her to behave immorally. The gall, the audacity of that!
Of course, she was not actually asking for tax payers to fund for her having sex. In fact, she did not even really focus on herself at all. Instead, she spoke about…you know… reproductive health issues:
These denials of contraceptive coverage impact real people. In the worst cases, women who need this medication for other medical reasons suffer dire consequences. A friend of mine, for example, has polycystic ovarian syndrome and has to take prescription birth control to stop cysts from growing on her ovaries. Her prescription is technically covered by Georgetown insurance because it’s not intended to prevent pregnancy. Under many religious institutions’ insurance plans, it wouldn’t be, and under Senator Blunt’s amendment, Senator Rubio’s bill, or Representative Fortenberry’s bill, there’s no requirement that an exception be made for such medical needs. When they do exist, these exceptions don’t accomplish their well-intended goals because when you let university administrators or other employers, rather than women and their doctors, dictate whose medical needs are legitimate and whose aren’t, a woman’s health takes a back seat to a bureaucracy focused on policing her body.
In sixty-five percent of cases, our female students were interrogated by insurance representatives and university medical staff about why they needed these prescriptions and whether they were lying about their symptoms. For my friend, and 20% of women in her situation, she never got the insurance company to cover her prescription, despite verification of her illness from her doctor. Her claim was denied repeatedly on the assumption that she really wanted the birth control to prevent pregnancy.She’s gay, so clearly polycystic ovarian syndrome was a much more urgent concern than accidental pregnancy. After months of paying over $100 out of pocket, she just couldn’t afford her medication anymore and had to stop taking it. I learned about all of this when I walked out of a test and got a message from her that in the middle of her final exam period she’d been in the emergency room all night in excruciating pain. She wrote, ‘It was so painful, I woke up thinking I’d been shot.’ Without her taking the birth control, a massive cyst the size of a tennis ball had grown on her ovary. She had to have surgery to remove her entire ovary. On the morning I was originally scheduled to give this testimony, she sat in a doctor’s office. Since last year’s surgery, she’s been experiencing night sweats, weight gain, and other symptoms of early menopause as a result of the removal of her ovary. She’s 32 years old. As she put it: ‘If my body indeed does enter early menopause, no fertility specialist in the world will be able to help me have my own children. I will have no chance at giving my mother her desperately desired grandbabies, simply because the insurance policy that I paid for totally unsubsidized by my school wouldn’t cover my prescription for birth control when I needed it.’ Now, in addition to potentially facing the health complications that come with having menopause at an early age— increased risk of cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis, she may never be able to conceive a child.
Perhaps you think my friend’s tragic story is rare. It’s not. One woman told us doctors believe she has endometriosis, but it can’t be proven without surgery, so the insurance hasn’t been willing to cover her medication. Recently, another friend of mine told me that she also has polycystic ovarian syndrome. She’s struggling to pay for her medication and is terrified to not have access to it. Due to the barriers erected by Georgetown’s policy, she hasn’t been reimbursed for her medication since last August. I sincerely pray that we don’t have to wait until she loses an ovary or is diagnosed with cancer before her needs and the needs of all of these women are taken seriously.
This is not the “I want your tax dollars to pay for me to have sex” that Limbaugh and so many hosts/guests on Fox painted it out to be. It is, in fact, about… Women’s Health.
This is the message that not requiring coverage of contraception sends. A woman’s reproductive healthcare isn’t a necessity, isn’t a priority. One student told us that she knew birth control wasn’t covered, and she assumed that’s how Georgetown’s insurance handled all of women’s sexual healthcare, so when she was raped, she didn’t go to the doctor even to be examined or tested for sexually transmitted infections because she thought insurance wasn’t going to cover something like that, something that was related to a woman’s reproductive health. As one student put it, ‘this policy communicates to female students that our school doesn’t understand our needs.’ These are not feelings that male fellow students experience. And they’re not burdens that male students must shoulder.
In the media lately, conservative Catholic organizations have been asking: what did we expect when we enrolled at a Catholic school? We can only answer that we expected women to be treated equally, to not have our school create untenable burdens that impede our academic success. We expected that our schools would live up to the Jesuit creed of cura personalis, to care for the whole person, by meeting all of our medical needs. We expected that when we told our universities of the problems this policy created for students, they would help us. We expected that when 94% of students opposed the policy, the university would respect our choices regarding insurance students pay for completely unsubsidized by the university. We did not expect that women would be told in the national media that if we wanted comprehensive insurance that met our needs, not just those of men, we should have gone to school elsewhere, even if that meant a less prestigious university. We refuse to pick between a quality education and our health, and we resent that, in the 21st century, anyone thinks it’s acceptable to ask us to make this choice simply because we are women.
The shame here was not that Barack Obama called Fluke to congratulate her on a bold stand. The shame here was not that Sandra testified before a committee on reproductive health regarding coverage of birth control by insurance providers. The real shame was that Conservatives loudly stood up on the wrong side of the issue and claimed their wrong headedness and willingness to spread lies and misinformation about what Fluke actually said as a virtue.