For some college students returning to New Jersey after a summer away, the fall semester will spark a growing wave of protest. After all, how would you feel if you suddenly could not get affordable birth control or basic reproductive check-ups at your university’s health center? At Princeton, where we are so used to free condoms and subsidized birth control that nobody made a peep when University Health Services tripled the co-pay for its contraceptive pills last spring, the possibility is not on many people’s radars (although, frankly, it should be).
But it will soon be a reality for students on campuses just miles from our gates, where Governor Chris Christie’s disastrous budget cuts could make it impossible for thousands of college students to access crucial health services like pap smears and STI tests without incurring serious expense. For cash-strapped twenty-somethings, the idea of having to choose between sexual health and school tuition is, to put it mildly, upsetting.
Reproductive health is a right, not a luxury. But Governor Christie, in his attempts to close the deficit without inconveniencing the state’s wealthier inhabitants, seems to have missed the memo. If you have not been following New Jersey state politics over the summer, let me recap quickly: Christie threatened to cut funding for women’s health and then he did so last spring, and he subsequently vetoed a bill that would have restored the funding. Things are not looking good for family planning funding in the state legislature.
On Monday, Democrats will make one last effort to override Christie’s veto, but if they do not succeed, family planning clinics in the state will be vulnerable to reduced hours and staff layoffs, and some may even close their doors. For college students who rely on organizations like Planned Parenthood or even have state-subsidized family planning clinics on their campuses, this is a disaster—it means the end of affordable birth control and reproductive health services. We are going to have to face the hard fact that the New Jersey government does not value our health or well-being.
What exactly have Governor Christie’s funding cuts taken away from the thousands of students in his state? Planned Parenthood has gathered some of the voices of the women who will be affected by the budget cuts. One 20-year-old woman “Cynthia” sums it up, emphasizing how her relatively modest needs were met by her college health center:
“As a busy college student away from home, family planning centers have helped me stay on the ball. They were able to see me on such short notice, and they were able to provide me with the birth control I needed. I was seen very quickly, and a kind nurse made sure I was completely informed on the birth control I was using. Despite having used the same method for several years, I was impressed with how much value was placed on making sure the patient—in this case, me—was fully informed about all the decisions being made about their health. When I saw the physician, he was caring and professional, and made sure that I was both physically and emotionally well.”
It may be easy to discount the need for an affordable birth control refill (although for women who can’t afford the additional $40 or so a month, it is a very real financial burden), but the scariest part is that funding cuts for contraceptives are just the beginning. Cervical cancer screenings, pap smears, STI tests and prenatal care are awfully necessary, but college students, faced with bills for school and housing, may have to kiss their reproductive health goodbye.
Even students at private universities like Princeton should see these funding cuts as a slap in the face. We are lucky that our university chooses to subsidize birth control and provide an affordable health insurance plan, but for the many students who will stay in the state after graduation, it is only a matter of time until the consequences of Governor Christie’s budget cuts become a reality.
Are you outraged yet? Luckily, there are a few things you can do (especially if you vote in New Jersey): you can call your legislators, particularly the six Senate Republicans who are swing voters on women’s health funding. You can sign our online petition at www.equalwrites.org to override the veto; and of course, even after the vote, you can continue to put pressure on your legislators to stand up for women’s health. Fiscal responsibility is an admirable goal. But pursuing it at the expense of the state’s most vulnerable inhabitants is, to put it baldly, shameful.