Originally published in the Central Florida Future: http://www.centralfloridafuture.com/news/student-organizations-unite-to-protest-birth-control-refusal-1.2701711
Alexa Nelen stomped outside of the Student Union on Tuesday as more than 40 students marched toward her in what she called a “vocal flash mob” in protest of birth control refusal.
“Hey Congress, we need our birth control,” recited a crowd of various UCF progressive coalitions including Voices for Planned Parenthood (VOX), the National Organization for Women, College Democrats and the Student Labor Action Party.
“We are organizations that share a fight for women’s rights,” said Nelen, a senior history major and president ofUCF’s chapter of VOX. “We have been coalition-building and they definitely support our efforts to make sure that everyone has the same access to birth control.”
The protest is a direct response to both the Republican House majority’s and the Catholic Church’s opposition toward a mandate under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act requiring employers to cover contraceptives under their insurance benefits with no co-payments.
Although rules already exempt houses of worship, the exemption hasn’t satisfied religious groups like the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who are lobbying hard to broaden that exemption to include religious schools, organizations and service providers. They posit that covering their employees’ contraceptive services would be a direct violation of their religious beliefs.
Anna Eskamani, vice president of UCF’s College Democrats, disagrees.
“I think it’s very unfair and it’s almost a discriminatory policy that just because I work at a Catholic institution I can’t have access to birth control,” senior political science and interdisciplinary studies double major, Eskamani said. “I think that we should treat every woman as equal no matter their religion.”
The event was held as part of a national action to illustrate to Congress and the president the apprehension toward a birth control refusal clause.
Planned Parenthood Federation of America personally called VOX asking its members to participate in the national action.
“We had a win when Obama refused the clause,” Nelen said. “But then he was inundated with a really controversial press and a lot of media attention to the right so we wanted to bring the media attention back to the side of young people, to the side that needs birth control.”
The chant, which started with Nelen, steadily grew as students hidden within the crowd joined in. Their voices escalated for more than 40 seconds, a deliberate act made to represent the average $40 spent on birth control every month.
Planned Parenthood provided VOX with 34 gas cans to visually explain how the Affordable Care Act would save millions of American women hundreds of dollars annually.
“The average amount a woman will spend on birth control each year is about $600. Which at $3.57 a gallon is 168 gallons of gas,” Nelen said. “We decided to set up a display to tell everyone what that means and that equaled about 34 gas cans. That’s a lot of gas, especially if you’re a student going to and from campus.”
College Democrats member and junior legal studies major Justin Karpf agrees and said he is pleased with the actions taking place at UCF.
“I think this is a very important message for students to hear,” Karpf said. “I know a lot of students work and get insurance, and I don’t think it’s right for a student or anyone for that matter to be denied medical coverage because of their employer’s personal beliefs.”
Out of the hundreds of colleges around the nation taking action on this issue, Planned Parenthood recognizedUCF’s protest to be one of the largest in the nation and will feature the event on their website.