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Abortion coverage is unexpectedly dropped from health plan, and the campus debates

Around 5 p.m. on Monday, March 13, 2006, Edward Whipple, vice president of student affairs, was putting the finishing touches on an e-mail to the undergraduate student body.

For the first time, BGSU was mandating its full-time students to have health care. Final details were soon to be hammered out on a University-sponsored plan, and Whipple was writing to update the campus on those negotiations.

While that e-mail was being written, a small group of students were assembling just outside the Union, ready to demonstrate against a part of the health plan.

The students, a coalition of religious and conservative campus groups, were allied against the inclusion of full abortion coverage in the plan.

That coverage had, as far as everybody knew, been approved earlier that year by the University’s Board of Trustees.

Then, Whipple’s e-mail went out.

“Optional insurance coverage for elective abortion will be available for an additional $60 per year,” it said.

“No portion of the premium for basic coverage will go toward elective abortion coverage.”

Around 5:01 p.m., all hell started to break loose.

What’s settled, at least for now, is the insurance plan itself.

Full-time students who lack health coverage will be forced to pay $1,234 for a plan offered by Chickering, an insurance company, through the University.

That plan will offer coverage for what Chickering refers to as “medically necessary” abortions, including ones to save the life of the mother.

Students will be charged the additional $60 for all other abortion coverage.

Students who already have health insurance comparable to the University plan may opt out.

A need-based waiver is also available.

Statistics on how many people have signed up for or waived the plan would not be available until after the registration deadline on September 7, according to Teri Sharp, University director of media relations.

Back near the Union, the assembled students, who had successfully courted area newspapers and TV stations to cover the protest, happily mingled in the news.

Late arrivals who hadn’t yet read Whipple’s e-mail were updated and quickly joined in the mini-celebration.

“This was one of the things we wanted, and they told us it was impossible,” Mike Woodall, who coordinated the protest, told The BG News at the time.

Yet the celebration was short lived, as controversy raged on for weeks surrounding the decision.

Memories of intense debate are likely still fresh for advocates of all opinions.

“There were people on all different sides of it, and it wasn’t just a yes or no side,” said Maria Khoury, who was the undergraduate representative to the committee that initially recommended that the plan include abortion coverage.

First, there was confusion over just how the decision came to be made.

Sharp told The BG News at the time that the trustees had held “informal” talks on the issue over Spring Break and eventually directed the University’s counsel to make the change.

Some were concerned the decision had come in a closed-door session of their regular meeting, which had been held on the final day of classes before the break.

Board members denied this, later saying they hadn’t been aware of the included abortion coverage when they approved early versions of the plan. Had they know that during those votes, they said, they would have demanded the change.

“[The Board] have to look out for the best interests of the students,” Khoury said. “I do feel that at the time they were acting in what they felt … was the best way.”

But The BG News was soon deluged with letters attacking the Trustees for what appeared to be a secretive about-face.

“It is absolutely ridiculous that access for reproductive health care on this campus is being restricted by a select group of individuals,” wrote Amanda Monyak, then-president of NARAL Pro Choice BGSU.

The Undergraduate Student Government and Graduate Student Government got into the act, sending a joint letter to Whipple and University President Sidney Ribeau.

The letter “[Expressed] our frustration and disappointment” with the Board’s decision.

Supporters countered that pro-choice groups failed to voice their opinion to the Board when given the chance and that Whipple had final say in the matter anyway.

“Ed Whipple made the decision and should be held accountable. The Board and our group pressured him, and he acted accordingly,” Woodall wrote in a BG News guest column.

“Students simply should not be required to pay for something they are against,” said Lauren Walter, an undergraduate, in a letter to The BG News.

And in perhaps the most far-reaching response, State Sen. Lynn Watchmann, R-Napoleon, hastily introduced a bill to make even the $60 option for elective abortion coverage illegal.

The bill remains in committee, and a legislative aide to Watchmann, Bethany Rhodes, said her office didn’t expect it to pass.

Still, Khoury said the plan could be reconsidered based on student feedback.

“I don’t know if there will be any major changes,” she said, “If [it’s] working for the students, then of course we’ll take that into consideration.”

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