Voice of the voiceless: Students find local abortion services lacking
Students at Central Michigan University and residents of Mount Pleasant have many options to address sexual health, but abortion and pro-choice counseling is rarely included.
The environment of purely pro-life facilities worries Rachel McDaniel, president of Voices for Planned Parenthood, a registered student organization at CMU.
“My only concern is the ideology,” said McDaniel, an Allegan senior. “I know when you get a pregnancy test, it’s very obviously a pro-life place, so sometimes that’s uncomfortable for people who aren’t aware that it’s religiously affiliated.”
Central Michigan Pregnancy Services, located at 904 E. Preston, is a pro-life organization.
Mary Barz, executive director of Central Michigan Pregnancy Services, said being a Christian organization creates “barriers” for her organization to overcome.
“The biggest challenge is being Christian and pro-life,” Barz said. “There are Christians that I would never have working here and there are pro-life people that I would never have working here because they wouldn’t be able to adhere to our policies. Our philosophy is ‘yes, we love those babies, but we love that mother, too.’”
Central Michigan Pregnancy Services provides post-abortive therapy sessions for women, and promotes campaigns to raise both awareness for the dangers of STIs and funds to eventually be able to provide STI tests at their facility.
“We believe in the sanctity of human life, so across the board we believe in the value of every human life, but that also includes the life of the mother,” Barz said. “We don’t do abortions, but we do talk about it because that is one option.”
Barz hopes to begin administering screenings for sexually transmitted infections in 2015.
“It can’t be just us," she said. "If there is follow-up care, my hope is that I can get doctors recruited that will give some volunteer hours.”
While the organization aligns with Christian ideals, Barz said she and her staff, who must complete a vigorous 21-hour training program, perpetuate a no-judgment policy and try to maintain a reassuring environment for those who walk through her doors.
The clinic at Central Michigan Pregnancy Services, Barz said, would be able to provide a panel of four different STI tests for around $45 through a third-party non-profit devoted to testing only for STIs.
Students demand other options
Voice for Planned Parenthood serves as the only representation of a Planned Parenthood in the Mount Pleasant area after the official organization closed its doors in 2007.
As a student-run organization, the group can provide no medical or pharmaceutical services to women, but rather strives to be a source of education to students on campus.
“You notice coming on campus a lot of people lack the foundation of sex-ed knowledge,” McDaniel said. “We are almost starting at ground zero trying to figure out where everyone is with their knowledge and then help them make the best decisions they can.”
Voices for Planned Parenthood even uses a “condom fairy” to pass out contraceptives to students and refer them to the community health department or University Health Services in Foust Hall.
McDaniel said Central Michigan Pregnancy Services’ pro-life stance might be a deterrent for students fearing judgment and being stigmatized.
Struggling to serve
Lori Wangberg is a health educator and HIV counselor at University Health Services. She said comfort for the client is the facility’s main goal.
“We need to cut down the stigma,” Wangberg said. “Ultimately, we want the best experience for the student. We want them to get their needs met the best possible way.”
In addition to the wide variety of general health concerns that can be addressed there, University Health Services provides pregnancy, STI and HIV testing for students.
A grant that comes from a partnership with the Central Michigan District Health Department has allowed students to receive these tests for free during monthly clinics held year-round in the past.
However, because the grant was not renewed for this past year, students must provide a co-pay for these services that varies depending on factors such as symptoms, the type of test needed and what kind of health insurance the student has.
HIV tests are the exception. They do not require students to see a doctor, but rather an HIV counselor like Wangberg if they would prefer to. While they still cost money, Wangberg said they will be considerably less at the University Health Services than if a student were to purchase an over-the-counter at-home test.
Wangberg said she and her coworkers are always welcoming to new university departments who wish to sponsor a free clinic. In addition to tests, University Health Services provides educational programs, presentations and guest speakers who come in once every month.
“We follow all of the same type of guidelines as any other clinic in the county,” Wangberg said. “We take it very seriously, I think even more so because we’re on a college campus and we know that it’s a tight-knit community.”