Although it has certainly made a splash in its campus debut, Plan A: Hoyas for Reproductive Justice has missed the mark with its first public initiative.
In an open letter sent to University President John J. DeGioia on Feb. 5, the nascent student coalition mixed some longstanding points of contention with new, and largely off-base, demands. A hybrid group of students from H*yas for Choice and United Feminists, Plan A filed listed grievances that included the lack of on-campus access to contraceptives, rape kits and the human papillomavirus vaccine Gardasil. On Feb. 24, Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson sent a response to the group rejecting this request for university support, citing Georgetown’s alignment with Catholic teaching.
To begin, the name of the coalition unfairly demonizes those who do not agree with it – in the same way that the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” have been criticized for doing. For the group to call itself Hoyas for Reproductive Justice implies that individuals who oppose its cause are opposed to justice. Plan A’s open letter places the coalition’s concerns under the greater umbrella of social justice and condemns the university for violating its Jesuit ideals by neglecting what the group perceives as major health worries.
But the university wasn’t the only neglectful party. In launching its attack, Plan A not only mischaracterized its demands, but also failed to check its facts. For instance, although the HPV vaccine Gardasil is not stocked at the Student Health Center, students who obtain a prescription and purchase it elsewhere can come to the health center to have it administered. Moreover, financial constraints – not a lack of concern for students’ health needs – motivated the health center’s decision to stop carrying the vaccine in 2007.
Similarly, Plan A’s demand that the Georgetown University Medical Center provide rape kits is legally impossible. The Washington Hospital Center is the only institution in the District authorized to offer services specific to victims of sexual assault. Medical Center patients who request a rape kit are referred to the Hospital Center.
The third principle request of the Plan A letter – that contraceptives be made available on campus and covered by the university health insurance plan – raises a perennial hot-button issue. Whether or not one agrees with it, the Catholic Church’s distinct stance on contraception and other reproductive issues is no secret. Students who choose to attend Georgetown implicitly choose to accept the university’s right to align its policies with the Catholic position.
In arguing for the necessity of on-campus access to condoms, the Plan A letter claims that such availability is “crucial to the health and safety of Georgetown students.” Given that condoms can be purchased from local vendors in the Georgetown area – and that H*yas for Choice is not prohibited from distributing condoms for free in university residence halls – the group may be prone to hyperbole.
Its accusation that the university stifles dialogue about sexual health issues is also off-base. University courses in ethics and other areas are not precluded from debating abortion, and this past Sunday marked the beginning of the second annual Sex Positive Week on campus.
At the end of the day, Georgetown is not forcing celibacy on its students. Indeed, Georgetown is much less restrictive than some of its Catholic peers. The University of Notre Dame, for example, only offers single-sex residence halls to its undergraduates, and students are not allowed in dorms inhabited by the opposite gender past a certain hour at night. Nor is the university stifling dialogue or limiting access to resources beyond what is required by its Catholic identity.
Ultimately, the Plan A coalition has picked the wrong target for its objections. Unless this newest coalition for reproductive access can convince the District to change its assault policies or Pope Benedict to overhaul some tenets of the Catholic Church, the university is unlikely to budge.
*To send a letter to the editor on a recent campus issue or Hoya story or a viewpoint on any topic, contact opinionthehoya.com. Letters should not exceed 300 words, and viewpoints should be between 600 to 800 words.*”