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ISSUE 121 VOL 1 PUBLISHED 9/21/2007

Health Services dump Pap tests

By Lindsey Giaquinto
Staff Writer

Friday, September 21, 2007

St. Olaf College prides itself on fostering the intellectual, spiritual and physical development of its students. Even our own website proclaims that this is a place "where the welfare of the student takes top priority," as quoted from the guidebook "Colleges that Change Lives."

And isn't it refreshing to see an academic institution devoted to the well-being of its students beyond the classroom? Yes indeed.

It is unfortunate that a lack of monetary resources now forces our student health center to not only prioritize, but also limit its services.

Ladies, if in the past you've ever jokingly said that you would rather get a Pap smear than go to that soul-impoverishing 8 a.m. class, you might be interested to know that you can no longer receive such a service at our health center.

St. Olaf Health Services can also no longer offer birth control to students new to the health center. Oral contraceptives previously cost only five dollars per month at St Olaf. While emergency contraception, also called Plan B, is thankfully still offered, this development is a major blow against college women's health.

I've sought out the villain, the architect of this absurd design, and my findings are not surprising. As tempting as it might be to automatically blame our administration, they are truly not at fault.

Congress passed a law last year making birth control much more expensive for campus health centers around the country, and the increased pricing has made it virtually impossible for the centers to maintain their former services.

The feminist in me wants to rage against this backhanded swipe against women's health, masquerading as a budgetary cut. I have to ask: why is there so little reaction or even awareness that this has happened?

Please, refuse to accept that your health is undercut and ignored: contact legislators to reinstate pricing. Check out the American College Health Association (ACHA) website for sample letters to send to Congressmen.

According to ACHA, "In the long run, the high cost of drugs and services and logistical problems will undoubtedly lead to reduced testing and use of contraception and a higher rate of unintended pregnancy, undetected health problems and untreated gynecological disorders."

Without a doubt, there is also a link between the accessibility of birth control and sexual health education programs.

I'm glad to see the emergence of a new organization on campus, Students for Reproductive Health and Choice, which helps raise awareness and educate the St. Olaf community about reproductive rights and women's health issues.

Recently I had to explain what a Pap smear was to a male friend, and needless to say, it was an awkward conversation.

But honestly, I can't blame him for wanting to gloss over the details of such a, shall we say, messy procedure. Still, I was surprised to learn that a 20-year-old college student lacked all knowledge of female health procedures. Are Oles too squeamish to address such issues as sexual health, which we apparently do not fully understand?

Now, I know that not everyone on campus is practicing abstinence; that is an unrealistic expectation. This means that our college must commit to promoting and educating its students about basic sexual wellness.

I mean, it would be difficult for a female student to focus in class or even attend class if she became pregnant. Plus, frankly, Chlamydia is just unpleasant. Ask your doctor about the reality of a Chlamydial eye infection - yes, ladies and gentlemen, they do exist.

At St. Olaf, we are lucky to be part of a wellness-oriented campus. Pam Tietz, the nurse practitioner at Student Health, assures that "women's health is a priority for our campus and we're not just doing away with it temporarily." Fortunately, St. Olaf happens to be in a great location, one that provides many outside resources, both in and around Northfield.

So even if services on campus are lacking, the community offers other resources to assure everyone the medical care they need.

Hopefully Congress will take further action to reinstate inexpensive birth control on college campuses. In the meantime, perhaps it's a good thing that St. Olaf's female students are left with no recourse but to attend their painful 8 o'clock classes.

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