Activists clash over proposed ‘Plan B’ bill

Seventy-two hours minus 24 hours is 48 hours.

Twenty-four hours is how long it took one Yale sophomore, who wished to remain anonymous, to find out from her (now ex-) boyfriend that the condom had broken.

Seventy-two hours is how long, conventional wisdom has it, emergency contraception, commonly known as Plan B, would be effective.

And 48 hours was how long she had to do everything in between. Call Planned Parenthood. Get in a cab to go there, then change her mind and turn around when someone tells her Plan B is free at Yale University Health Services. Wait at YUHS. Fill out paperwork. Get a urine test. Answer more questions. Before getting the pill. Before taking it. Before waiting, shakily, for two weeks, to make sure it works.

“Pregnancy is really, really scary,” the sophomore said.

Half a decade is about how long it took Maureen Lloyd ’08, a pre-med student and secretary of Choose Life At Yale, to figure out how she feels about those 72 hours. A staunch Catholic — and therefore, she says, automatically pro-life — Lloyd thinks it’s important to follow the rules. Right now, access to emergency contraception is what she calls “the law of the land,” and though for Lloyd life begins at fertilization, she does not believe in civil disobedience. She’s still not sure she could ever perform an abortion, but emergency contraception? If the law is not on her side as a physician, she might have to silence her conscience and do as she is told.

“Emergency contraception makes it so, so easy to end a life,” Lloyd said.

And at the intersection of these two sets of calculations lies a measure that, after weeks of heated lobbying on both sides, was tabled in the Connecticut State Senate Public Health Committee last week. A measure that would have forced all hospitals, Catholic or otherwise, to provide victims of sexual assault with emergency contraception. A measure being debated in a liberal state and by some Yale students, who have relatively easy access to emergency contraception through the University and worry about what they contend is the future of reproductive rights at Yale and in Connecticut. Some feared and others hoped that this measure would open the floodgates in terms of providing access to Plan B for women across the state.

Emotionally charged, though relatively narrow in scope, the bill’s ascension, following its introduction in the committee by state Sen. Andrew McDonald, has been characterized by a pointed lack of middle ground between the two sides.

Earlier this year, U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 (D-Conn.) was quoted in the Hartford Courant as telling rape victims that, “in Connecticut, it shouldn’t take more than a short ride to get to another hospital.” Planned Parenthood issued a eulogy for the bill that called it “a setback for all women.” And backed into a corner by the defenders of reproductive rights and religion, legislators chose to run out the clock, introducing the bill with 17 minutes left to get it out of committee. Unpassed and tabled for a full year, the bill became something short of victory for the alliance of Catholic hospitals and pro-life activists that fought the measure, and a heartbreaker for the women’s rights organizers, both on the Yale campus and off, who supported it.

The standard antagonists faced off in this round of the reproductive rights debate, with the Family Institute of Connecticut and the Archdiocese of Hartford arguing that Plan B is understudied, terminates a human life and discourages women from establishing a relationship with a health care provider who can assess their risk for other side effects of unprotected sex. On the other side, Planned Parenthood and Yale’s Women’s Center argued that the bill would be a no-brainer for anyone who cared about women.

But in this round, activists on either side have couched the debate on the bill in new terms.

For instance, Carol Kandall moonlights at St. Raphael’s Hospital in New Haven, covering an occasional night or weekend shift on top of her job as a gynecologist at the Hill Health Center. She prescribes Plan B at the Hill, citing studies in Europe and the Netherlands showing the drug is about as safe as they come, but would never dream of questioning St. Raphael’s policy of not prescribing it. St. Raphael’s respects the Peoria Protocol, developed last summer by the Catholic bishops of Connecticut, which says that, if a victim of sexual assault wants to use Plan B to terminate a pregnancy, a hospital has the right to help her find another outlet to access it, but a responsibility to do no more.

“It seems to me that this is a problem of the separation between church and state,” Kandall said. “I do not think this is an arena where the state, either at the federal or the local level, ought to have any say over what employees of Catholic hospitals do and do not have to do.”

On the flip side, Eve Fine ’07, coordinator of Reproductive Rights Action League of Yale College, argued that the bill should not be lumped in with other abortion-rights and anti-abortion debates because it is, at its core, a bill about victim’s rights.

“A woman who has been raped has had her power and control taken from her, and to restore that power and control to her, she has to have the ability to make decisions and access all of her options,” Fine said.

Lloyd said she thinks the bill fails to address the true problem: a society in which the worst consequence of a rape is a pregnancy, in which getting pregnant can ruin a life.

“We want to make Yale and the world a place where women will never have to choose between bearing children and furthering their career,” Lloyd said.

Yale, which Fine said is perceived as “something of a paradise” by the reproductive-rights movement, offers free access to emergency contraception and, in some instances, gynecologists associated with YUHS will prescribe Plan B ahead of sexual intercourse, “just in case.”

But, as a joint evaluation between the Yale College Council, RALY and Yale University Health Services hopes to show, there is always room for improvement. The Yale sophomore who had to resort to Plan B said she was “sort of freaked out” by the urine test she had to take, a test that Rachel Criswell ’07, an intern at Planned Parenthood, said was unnecessary. Criswell said she thinks the rules on when and how to get access to Plan B before intercourse should be clearer at Yale. And Fine argued that more events like RALY’s Emergency Contraception Day, which publicizes the availability of Plan B at UHS, are needed.

“Most people do not use Plan B as their primary form of birth control,” Fine said. “It is, literally, a Plan B, and having to resort to it is somewhat traumatic. That means that anything we can do to make the experience of obtaining it easier is important.”

One year is roughly how long Christine Slaughter ’07, coordinator of the Women’s Center Political Action Committee, figures that activists on both sides have to get geared up before some variant of “the Plan B bill,” Raised Bill 445, will come up again in the Connecticut State Senate. She hopes that this time Yalies won’t be on spring break and can get involved in the fight. One year, Lloyd said, is how long CLAY activists will continue to pray — peacefully, Lloyd said; “it’s nothing like what you see in the movies” — outside Planned Parenthood clinics and talk to women entering and leaving about their other options.

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