By KAT SAUNDERS
UMW freshman Anna Halbrook-Fulks believes many fellow students are misinformed about Planned Parenthood and women’s reproductive rights.
“The pro-choice movement is about so much more than abortion,” she said. “I think a lot of people are unaware of what Planned Parenthood really is.”
In order to better educate students about the pro-choice movement and reproductive rights, Halbrook-Fulks and five other students recently organized a chapter of VOX, a college group affiliated with Planned Parenthood, a national organization that provides women’s health services, including abortion. VOX aims at educating young voters about reproductive rights issues and sexual health.
Member Cara MacDonalad, sophomore, said the club has many plans for the school.
“There’s a lot VOX can do for our campus. In a school populated by mostly women we deserve better women’s health resources,” she said. “We deserve affordable birth control, better STD testing, and more flexible hours at the health center. VOX will work toward achieving all of these things and more.”
The club’s affiliation with Planned Parenthood has caused controversy at other universities. VOX receives information and resources from Planned Parenthood, but Halbrook-Fulks said they will not receive funding.
Planned Parenthood is the leading provider of abortions in the United States. According to Lauren Bull, director of organizing and advocacy for the program in Northern Va., there are no abortion providers in the Fredericksburg area.
Life and Liberty Ministries, a pro-life group, visited the UMW campus last spring, displaying graphic posters they claimed were of abortions. The protest and student counter protests lasted several hours. During the 2007 school year, anti-birth control posters distributed around campus also spurred complaints and debates about birth control and abortion.
Melissa Evish, vice president of Students for Life, a pro-life club on campus, says she does not agree with the club’s affiliation with Planned Parenthood.
“Our club stands for the right to life for every human being, including the unborn child,” she said. “They have the right to form the club, but that doesn’t mean we agree with them.”
Halbrook-Fulks said she has not encountered any controversy about the club when discussing it with other students or with the University’s administration.
However, Bull and Halbrook-Fulks emphasize that Planned Parenthood’s main purpose is education and family planning, not providing abortions.
“Planned Parenthood and VOX’s first priority is prevention through education and access to resources,” Halbrook-Fulks said.
According to Planned Parenthood, approximately 3 percent of the services it provided in 2006 were abortions.
“We’re the ones fighting for access and women’s health care,” Bull said in an interest meeting with UMW students. “It’s important that groups like you exist.”
Halbrook-Fulks, who became active in feminism and women’s rights during high school, visited a VOX workshop at the College of William and Mary on Sept. 13 and contacted Planned Parenthood in Richmond about starting a UMW chapter. Chapters exist at 10 other Virginia universities, including UVA and William & Mary.
One of the club’s first planned events will be a “reverse Trick or Treat” where sexual health information, and possibly condoms, will be distributed to freshman dorms on Halloween. Halbrook-Fulks said VOX is targeting freshman dorms because many high schools in Virginia provide abstinence-only education programs.
“It’s important to be aware that young people do have sex. We should teach them how to do that responsibly. We can’t just be totally out of touch with reality,” she said.
The club will also have an event where they sell emergency contraception, a form of birth control taken after at a discounted price of twenty dollars. Emergency contraception is available over the counter and at the UMW Women’s Health Clinic. The drug is controversial due to misconception that it is a form of abortion.
VOX will focus on tabling and educating students about legislation in Virginia pertaining to reproductive issues. According to Halbrook-Fulks, the club will participate in lobbying at the Virginia Senate in January or February. Halbrook-Fulks said that college students should be particularly concerned with current Virginia laws and legislation that have increased the costs of birth control on college campuses and restricted access to abortions.
“I think we’re preparing ourselves to go out in the world and become leaders and I think it’s important for us to be aware of these issues,” she said.
She wants VOX to make students more aware of these laws, as well as change misconceptions about sexual health and morality.
“I think it’s embarrassing that insurance companies will cover Viagra but they won’t cover birth control,” she said.