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SBA commends Fluke, asks Georgetown to explain inconsistent contraception policies

The “Equal Healthcare Resolution” passed without opposition at the Feb. 28 meeting of the SBA House of Delegates. Co-sponsored by Elizabeth Hira (2L), Daniel Smith (1L), Edward Williams (1L), and Erin Dexter (1L), the resolution commends 3L Sandra Fluke and asks Law Center Administration to explain “the inconsistency and apparent discrimination” in University policy on contraception. The resolution was also supported by non-SBA student groups Law Students for Reproductive Justice, the Women’s Legal Alliance, and the Women of Color Collective.

(The full text of the resolution is attached to the end of this post.)

The all male panel at the hearing. This photo went viral with the caption, “Where are the women?”Fluke was thrust into the national spotlight when Congressman Darryl Issa (R-CA) refused to allow her to testify at a House Oversight and Government Reform hearing on religious liberty and the proposed HHS contraception rule. Congressman Issa said that Fluke was not “appropriate or qualified” because the hearing was on religious freedom. Whatever merit his objection may have had, the optics of an all male panel discussing women’s healthcare became the headline.

The following week, Fluke delivered her testimony as the sole witness at an unofficial hearing of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.

In commending Fluke, the SBA resolution states that she has “the widespread support of the GULC student body.”

“Clarification” requested

The resolution calls on the Administration to “to publicly clarify by both ‘faith and reason’ the inconsistency and apparent discrimination in the institutional stance towards faculty and students regarding health insurance coverage for contraception.”

The “inconsistency” referred to is based on a comparison of the healthcare offered to University employees and that provided to students. “[C]ontraceptive coverage is an already available and subsidized option to faculty and staff” while the student health plan excludes coverage for contraception and is “unsubsidized.” As evidence, the resolution cites an employee health insurance policy document, obtained independently by the Law Weekly, that expressly lists coverage for “contraceptive drugs and devices.” 

The language on “faith and reason” comes from the “Mission Statement of the Georgetown University Jesuits” (emphasis added):

We witness to the compatibility of faith and reason, work to extend knowledge and cultivate a University community that reflects the conviction that the good life is a life lived generously in the service of others.

The resolution further notes that “77% of other Jesuit/Catholic” law schools in the U.S. News top 100 provide coverage for contraception.

In perhaps the most pointed section, Georgetown Law’s Dean William Treanor is specifically mentioned in connection with Fordham Law, another Jesuit school that includes coverage for contraception in its student health plan. Treanor was dean of Fordham Law until coming to Georgetown this past fall. Fordham University bills itself as “the Jesuit University of New York.”

Debate on the floor

Several SBA delegates spoke in support of the resolution, including SBA President Elizabeth Farrar. “For me it was very instructive,” said Farrar, “to learn that our law school is out of sync with more than three-fourths of other Jesuit law schools [in the top 100]. I think that if our policy on contraception is out of line with what seems to be the prevailing norm then that’s something that we are justified in asking for more information on.”

George Chipev, 3L, who also attended Georgetown for his undergraduate studies, pointed out that this debate affects students at main campus as well. At the Law Center, said Chipev, “at least we have the benefit of being in the city. There [on the main campus] … students can’t buy condoms within 10-minutes walking distance. I mention condoms to stress that this is an obvious issue on main campus — not to frame the debate around condoms… . People aren’t aware of what the policies are before they come to this school.” Finishing his speech, Chipev called attention to the unique atmosphere created by the attention created by Fluke’s testimony: “We haven’t had a moment to do this before. This is the moment to do it.”

The resolution passed with overwhelming support. There were no votes opposed and only two abstentions.

How school administration will respond remains to be seen.

Disclosure: The author of this article is a current SBA delegate and voted in favor of the resolution.

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