By LAURA CHANG and RICHARD RAMSUNDAR
News Editor and Staff Writer
Published: December 7, 2011
Free birth control prescriptions, condoms and other forms of contraceptives were available for Fordham students to access during “Prescribe Fordham,” a birth control clinic and sexual health fair, on Nov. 30.
Medical volunteers and doctors from Institute for Family Health prescribed birth control to Fordham students and answered questions about sexual health at New York Institute of Technology, one block away from Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC). The event was sponsored by several student organizations from Fordham Law School (FLS), and spearheaded by third-year law student, Bridgette Dunlap, president of Fordham Law Students for Reproductive Justice, along with second-year law students Emily Wolf and Leila Mokhtarzadeh.
Other sponsors included Fordham Law Women and the Fordham Domestic Violence Action Center and the Fordham Health, Education, Advocacy and Law Society (Fordham H.E.A.L.S.).
Dunlap said that she was not allowed to post flyers about the event in the Lowenstein building, which is why FCLC students may not have heard about the event, but information circulated through email, social networks and word of mouth.
Dunlap said that the collaboration began after she approached several student organizations at the law school and also alerted the Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham. In an email sent to McShane, Dunlap wrote, “No Fordham website or student handbook explicitly states that the health centers will not prescribe birth control.”
At the Nov. 30 birth control fair, she said, “We want a better understanding of what the policies are and also we’re interested in what the doctrine behind them is.”
Alison Falb, FLS ’12 and legal coordinator of Fordham H.E.A.L.S., said that the policies written on the Fordham website had “a vagueness that is difficult for students and health services staff to navigate.” In particular, Falb said that students have difficulty determining what the University’s birth control policy is based on what they see on the website.
Falb said that in two scenarios, the unclear language can confuse students. In the first scenario, the website says that Fordham insurance covers birth control. She explained that hormonal birth control is part of prescription benefits for students who have Fordham health insurance. It is also a mandated law of New York state.
According to Falb, in order for students to obtain a prescription for birth control under the Fordham insurance, whether it is for medical or contraceptive purposes, they must bring the prescription to a pharmacy. They will then pay a regular co-payment for medication. However, the dilemma is that students are not able to get this prescription from health services, and must seek it off campus.
“If they have Fordham insurance this will include paying $100 for a deductible, as well as paying a $10 copay, and 15 percent coinsurance if the provider is in network,” Falb said.
She said that in the second scenario, the website states that it complies with the Catholic doctrine and then links to a PDF file. Falb said that the Catholic doctrine allows hormonal birth control to be prescribed for medical reasons, including ovarian cysts and endometriosis., which WebMD explained as a disease where a type of tissue that lines the uterus is also growing outside the uterus.
Although the head of Health Services, Kathleen Malara, confirmed with Falb that she will prescribe birth control to students for medical reasons, other health services staff have not followed this policy.
Falb argued that if these policies were clear, students would have access to proper information and the staff that they see at health services would have “a clear policy to follow that would allow them to prescribe birth control for medical purposes.”
The event stressed the importance that birth control is not just a drug or pill needed to prevent pregnancy. It is also a type of medication.
According to Dr. Linda Prine, birth control is also used to regulate periods and help ease the pain of cramps. In adition, it is used to treat endometriosis and acne.
“Outside of this event, we have a free clinic at our office for people who need contraceptives. We work for the New York City Free Clinic (NYCFC) located at 16 East 16th Street,” Prine said.
Nicole Thomas, FLS ’12, was there to receive a prescription and said that she does not like the Fordham insurance policy. “I was prescribed because I had a medical issue that it helps prevent. I received surgery for it as a preventative measure and my gynecologist suggested birth control,” Thomas said.
Another program that was present at the drive was NARAL Pro-Choice America. David Benzaquen, political legislature and action coordinator of NARAL, said, “NARAL is a statewide organization that gives contraceptives to students whose schools won’t distribute them on campus,” among other services.
Since the majority of people who attended the event were there to receive prescriptions for birth control, those in attendance were predominantly female. However, Jason Heidenfelder, one of the few males at the event, said, “I’m here to support all women. I think that some schools are unfortunately afraid to address the fact that sex does happen outside of the classroom.”
Some FCLC students said that they want more of these birth control drives so that they can have access to the contraceptives as well for medical reasons.
Megan Cerezo, FCLC ’12, did not hear about the drive until after it took place, but said that she uses birth control for acne reasons.
“Birth control is really expensive and if the school is not going to provide it, the insurance that we pay should,” Cerezo said.
Another student from Turkey said that she does not have health insurance now that she lives in New York. Celine Tolu, FCLC ’15, uses birth control to balance her estrogen levels, and said, “I haven’t been able to have my birth control since I moved here because my international health insurance does not cover it.”
Some Fordham students understand why obtaining contraceptives may be difficult under Fordham’s insurance policy.
Monica Hanna, FCLC ’12, said, “I understand that this is a Jesuit and Catholic institution, so that is where this policy is coming from, but they do need to be more clear.”
Alexa Frank, FCLC ’12, said, “I don’t think Fordham is responsible for providing the actual birth control and there are constraints that students at Fordham recognize.” She said that Fordham needs to make this policy less vague and incredibly known so that “students do not end up confused or possibly end up in situations that they don’t want to be in.”