By HARRY HUGGINS
Published: February 22, 2012
The president of Fordham’s chapter of the national organization Law Students for Reproductive Justice (LSRJ) said in an interview last week that the Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) Health Center does not follow a school policy that allows for the prescription of hormonal contraception to students to treat medical conditions, such as endometriosis.
The Fordham website states that the University’s birth control policy is as follows: “Neither contraceptives nor birth control are distributed or prescribed on premises as a standard practice.” It does, however, stipulate that, “Student Health Services does make limited exceptions for the treatment of medical conditions accompanied by supporting documentation.”
According to President of Fordham’s LSRJ Bridgette Dunlap, Fordham Law School (FLS) ’12, the Health Center is not prescribing birth control for even those with medical conditions treatable with hormonal contraception. Based on the group’s own unconfirmed research and interviews, Dunlap said, “With the information we have right now, I would not recommend getting your exam at the health center if you have any kind of menstrual symptoms, if you have a history of it or if you’ve been prescribed it to regulate your periods or anything like that.”
LSRJ’s warning stems from anecdotal reports Dunlap has heard from surveyed female students who have sought birth control under Fordham’s health exception policy. Vice President of Fordham’s LSRJ Emily Wolf, FLS ’13, said that after reaching out to students for their experiences with the health center that she got “dozens of responses, but not a single response saying, ‘I had this medical reason and I did get birth control.’”
Wolf also experienced the Health Center’s actions first-hand. Last year, Wolf, who is on Fordham’s health insurance plan, went into the Health Center to have her annual gynecological exam.
Wolf has endometriosis, a condition in which uterine tissue grows outside the uterus, which causes severe cramping during her period. According to WebMD, acute cases of endometriosis can be treated with a birth control regimen. In the past, Wolf would be prescribed birth control pills to skip her period and the cramps, but when she asked the nurse about obtaining a prescription, she was told they could not provide it.
“I knew this coming in, that they wouldn’t prescribe [for contraceptive reasons],” Wolf said, “but I also knew that they had a health exception, so I thought that I would be able to qualify for it. [The nurse practitioner giving her exam] said, ‘No, sorry, I can give you a prescription for painkillers.”
Wolf tried the painkillers, but they were not enough. She took an alternative route, making an appointment at a free clinic downtown where she got an intrauterine device, or IUD, placed in her uterus. Her type of IUD releases hormones that prevent pregnancy and help regulate a woman’s period. She got the device from the Institute for Family Health, a free clinic downtown.
Wolf went to the free clinic because, like many students on Fordham’s health care plan, she could not afford the $100 deductible to go to an off campus doctor for a prescription. The Fordham Insurance Plan costs $2,229 annually and, because of New York State law, does cover birth control; for those who can obtain a prescription, there is a copayment of $10 or $20, according to Dunlap.
According to Dunlap, the problem for students is getting that prescription. Another law student who wished to remain anonymous had a similar experience with Fordham’s Health Center. This student knew of the Health Center’s policy but believed her ovarian cyst qualified her for a prescription under that exception. She showed the Health Center the results of a sonogram of the cyst in her medical file, but the nurse practitioner giving the exam still would not prescribe the pill.
Although the Observer was able to confirm these two stories of women denied birth control prescription despite having documented medical conditions, the remainder of the cases Dunlap and Wolf cited are yet unconfirmed.
When asked to provide the number of women prescribed birth control by the Health Center in the last five years, Director of Health Services Kathleen Malara declined to do so, saying that releasing the numbers would be a violation of student privacy. Student Press Law Center Consulting Attorney Mike Hiestand said that Fordham could share this information without violating any privacy laws, but that as a private institution it was not required to do so.
In their dealings with the Health Center, neither Wolf nor Dunlap believed the nurse practitioners giving the exams were the people responsible for refusing to prescribe birth control. “As far as gynecological exams go, I think students should feel comfortable about going [to the Health Center],” Wolf said. “Everyone that works there was great and very professional.”