BY KAITLIN MAYHEW
VOX Vice-president Cara MacDonald, sophomore, recalled a time this year when she called her Planned Parenthood representative, Lauren Bull, because one of her male friends was refused when he attempted to purchase Emergency Contraception (EC) at the Giant Food on Rt. 1.
“It is not the law that you can’t sell it to men,” VOX president freshman Anna Halbrook-Fulks said.
Bull called the Giant Food herself to let them know that the law said nothing about it. Pharmacies can, however, refuse to sell EC to men if they have made it their specific store policy.
“Most people don’t even know what their store policy is,” Halbrook-Fulks said.
UMW VOX wants to make it an easy and judgment free experience for someone in need to buy emergency contraception. The EC Day at the end of the fund-raising will be a culmination of their efforts.
“We have a long way to go to get there,” MacDonald said.
Founded this year, VOX, which is Latin for “voice,” is dedicated to advocating for and educating about women’s reproductive health and rights. The club has since prominently shown its presence on campus with its members in bright pink shirts selling condom-grams, or lobbying with protest signs in Richmond.
Voices for Planned Parenthood is a national collegiate organization created by Planned Parenthood. This year UMW has joined a long line of Virginia schools that have VOX chapters, including James Madison University, the College of William and Mary, University of Virginia, and Virginia Tech University among others.
The UMW VOX chapter was started this past fall by freshman Anna Halbrook-Fulks who worked from the model of the established William and Mary VOX chapter, as well as with Planned Parenthood directly.
Throughout the year, the club has progressively grown in popularity and recognition.
We’ve picked up a lot of members,” Halbrook-Fulks said. “It’s been really amazing.”
Even male students who are interested are encouraged to join VOX.
“I love to see that. We have one man in our group,” MacDonald said.
Members of UMW VOX, along with pro-choice supporters everywhere, gathered in Richmond Feb. 5 for Pro-Choice Lobby Day. The lobbyists were opposing legislation that would among other things, require that when a fetal death occurred, such as in the case of an abortion, the death would have to be reported to the police.
Cutting state funding for all organizations that provide abortion or abortion counseling except for in hospitals was another item on the list. There were also specific cuts aimed for Planned Parenthood.
“It’s interesting because no state money goes to abortion,” MacDonald said. “So when they cut funding for women’s health they are cutting funding for things like breast cancer research.”
The day of lobbying was ultimately worth the trip according to MacDonald.
“We were actually successful,” she said. “Two of the bills we were protesting got shot down.”
MacDonald believes that one of the most important things that VOX represents is real education, especially when it comes to Planned Parenthood. Most people, she said, overlook a lot of the good work Planned Parenthood provides because they focus so much on abortion.
“I was like everyone else,” MacDonald said. “When I heard Planned Parenthood I thought abortion. But that is really a very small percentage of what they do.”
So far the club has participated in two major campus events, getting their name out in the open. On Halloween they went reverse trick-or-treating, visiting freshman dorms and delivering free condoms and sexual health pamphlets. This Valentine’s Day, VOX members frequented the Eagle’s Nest selling their “condom-grams” for 50 cents each.
The condom-gram sale has been the only form of fund-raising the club has done so far. Most of the expenses the members have paid for out of pocket according to MacDonald. They raised $82 from the condom-grams.
“It was very successful,” MacDonald said. “But we are going to need to raise a lot more to reach our goals.”
One of these goals is to have an EC Day. This event in which EC, also known as the morning-after pill, is purchased in bulk by the VOX chapters and then sold to students at discounted prices or even for free.
EC consists of two pills, that contain a large dose of levonorgestrel, which is a hormone found in most birth control pills. It works similarly to prevent pregnancy up to three days after sexual intercourse.
“[EC] is not an abortion,” MacDonald said. “[To sell it for] free would be great, but even discounted would be better than the current price.”
EC can prove difficult and expensive to obtain for those in need according to Halbrook-Fulks and MacDonald who both recall times where people they knew had trouble purchasing emergency contraception from pharmacies.
Some pharmacists refuse to sell it altogether, a decision that is legal because a pharmacist has a right to refuse to sell something they don’t believe in the same way a doctor has the right not to prescribe it.
“One of the Planned Parenthood bills is that a pharmacist had to put up notifications,” Halbrook-Fulks said. “But it is legal.”
Others deny men who try to purchase it, claiming that they need proof that the woman is 18.
In spite of the restrictions, girls who do manage to obtain EC sometimes feel objectified, according to Halbrook-Fulks.
“I’ve talked to a lot of girls who feel like the attitude they get [when they purchase EC] is people getting snobby with them,” Halbrook-Fulks said.
Another goal that UMW VOX hopes to achieve is creating a sexual health directory that will include a list of services that the women’s health clinic on campus offers, OBGYN’s in the area, STD testing locations, and a sexual assault hotline. This directory would be linked to the school’s website so that students could have easy access to the information.
“One of our goals is to erase the stigma of sexual health,” Halbrook-Fulks said.
Halbrook-Fulks emphasizes that although the UMW health center offers very limited STD testing, The Fredericksburg Health Center offers all tests as well as free contraceptives.
The club also hopes to increase the popularity of the women’s clinic on campus and educate more women about its services.
“We are a campus with 70 percent women,” Halbrook-Fulks said. “And our women’s health center doesn’t even have its own room.”
MacDonald and Halbrook-Fulks both agree that the unpopularity of the women’s clinic may have to do with the extra fee, separate from the student health center fee, and the required video that must be watched before an appointment.
“I think that’s kind of a deterrent,” Halbrook-Fulks said.
Also the hours of the women’s clinic may also contribute, since it is only open two days a week, on Wednesday from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. and Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., both of which are times when classes are in session.
“What they told us is that they really don’t have a high demand,” MacDonald said. “And that they are so excited about us.”
The women’s clinic on campus offers routine health exams including breast and pelvic exams, pap smear, Gonnorhea and Chlamydia screening and three months of a birth control prescription for $55.
Pregnancy testing and counseling is available for $5. Emergency contraception and counseling is available for $35 which is less expensive than the price at most pharmacies, such as CVS and Giant were it exceeds $45. The clinic also can provide a variety of birth control pills for $12 a pack.
The UMW Women’s Clinic used to be able to provide birth control to students for much cheaper prices than they do today.
“There’s been legislation passed that significantly increased the price of birth control,” Halbrook-Fulks said. “But I think the main issue [with the women’s clinic] is that people don’t know what they offer.”
Planned Parenthood is unable to give any monetary support for VOX, although they do provide a Planned Parenthood representative and free contraceptives.
“They are struggling too,” MacDonald said. “A lot of legislators want to cut their funding.”
During Pro-Choice Lobby Day, VOX members came into contact with what are called “Trap Laws,” that place regulatory sanctions on any organization that provides abortions, and not on those that provide other surgical procedures.
“What they want to happen is for abortion clinics to shut down because they don’t meet the standards,” Halbrook-Fulks said.
“A lot of these came about because of Cuccinelli, (Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia Senator Candidate for Attorney General) Halbrook-Fulks said. “He got a lot of media exposure because of his legislation opposing Planned Parenthood and abortion, so lots more have come up.”
According to MacDonald, UMW VOX hopes to participate in more lobbying events in the future and continue to raise awareness of women’s health issues on campus.