Optional abortion surprises students

The announcement that abortion coverage would not be mandatory in the University’s insurance plan came as a surprise to members of student groups that were preparing to rally yesterday against the former proposal. The original plan would have automatically included abortion coverage.

The demonstration, with at least 50 people expected to join, quickly turned into a celebration of around 15 students as the news spread, while construction paper and supplies for making signs sat unused.

The news was “absolutely” unexpected, said Mike Woodall, the coordinator of the loose coalition of groups, which included Falcons for Life, Creed on Campus, College Republicans and Students for Academic Freedom.

Edward Whipple, the vice president for academic affairs, sent an e-mail to all students yesterday that said “optional insurance coverage for elective abortion will be available for an additional $60 per year,” which would be added to the standard cost of $1,234.

Students who chose not to opt-in to the program would not be covered for an abortion under any circumstance, said Terri Sharp, the University’s director of media relations.

“This was one of the things we wanted, and they told us it was impossible,” Woodall said. “We had no idea.”

The group had collected over 300 signatures in support, which they had planned to present at last night’s Undergraduate Student Government meeting, he said.

Kelly Schulz, a member of both Creed and the graduate student senate, said the move was “a good step in the right direction.”

“The less people that support abortion, the better,” she said.

Earlier this year, the Health Services Advisory Committee, which includes undergraduates, graduate students and faculty, had recommended the insurance package which made abortion coverage mandatory.

But some group members and leaders present at the rally thought it was influence from the student body, as well as an information packet handed out at a Board of Trustees meeting on March 3, which led to the change [see story, this page].

“Apparently [the trustees] put pressure on Dr. Whipple,” said Gina Tortorella, president of Falcons for Life. “We just found out that it worked.”

Whipple is responsible for ultimately approving the plan. He, as well as Glenn Egelman, director of student health services, were unavailable for comment, their offices said.

Kim McBroom, the assistant vice president for marketing and communication, said members of the Board of Trustees “informally” discussed the abortion insurance question among one another during spring break.

Members then eventually told the University’s general counsel, who has been negotiating the plan, that they thought the compromise opt-in plan was best, McBroom said.

But two members of the advisory committee, Maria Khoury and Tony Wagener, were angry their recommendation was rejected by Whipple and the trustees.

“It didn’t seem as if it was completely not approved, but that it hadn’t been approved yet,” said Khoury in an interview yesterday.

“These people are sitting around, making decisions for the students, yet the students aren’t there and involved in that process,” she said.

Around 1,000 students are currently enrolled in the University’s voluntary insurance plan, Sharp said, but she didn’t know how many University students currently had no health insurance.

She said they wouldn’t know how many students were enrolled for next year until late summer.